|Youth-Serving Professionals with Pride|
As part of our "Celebrating Pride" series for June, Garrett, Youth Advocacy Coordinator of the Texas Freedom Network, and Mary, Community Programs Manager
Garrett: More and more, young LGBTQ Texans are feeling confident to speak out and demand equal treatment and respect for their community. I’m lucky to work with some of these amazing young people every day. In particular, I have been inspired by James Lee, one of our Cultural Advocacy Mobilization Initiative student leaders, who has grown to become an amazing activist for equality.
Mary: It’s a privilege for me to be able to work with the gay and lesbian young people on my council. The selflessness and courage that they exhibit working to empower other youth to work towards justice inspires me and I’m so proud of them and the work that they do.
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When most people think of Texas they don’t think of LGBTQ pride. In fact, they think the opposite. They think of state that, until a landmark 2003 Supreme Court ruling, made same-sex sexual activity a criminal offense for which you could face arrest. They think of a state that overwhelmingly passed an amendment to its constitution in 2005 which banned equal marriage. They think of a state that does not have any legal protection for LGBTQ people against discrimination by employers. They think of a state that provides sex education that either demonizes LGBTQ youth or pretends they don’t exist.
When I tell people that my grandfather was a gay man, I get funny looks. People ask me, if your grandfather was gay, then how are you here? Because he was married to my grandmother, I respond, and he loved her and they had two children and then my mom had me…obviously, just like everybody else. You see, when my grandfather was a young guy back in the 60s, it was totally NOT ok to be gay, especially not in Mexico where they were living at the time, and not in our country either. So, he got married and had kids like everyone else, and his sexual identity was mostly a family secret.
I might not be gay or lesbian myself, but from my family history, I know how hard it is to not be able to be who you are. It isn’t any easier these days for young people to be open about their sexual identity than it was for my grandfather. It means a lot for me to be able to work with gay and lesbian youth, to be able to support them to be open with their identity if they choose, or not if they choose. I hope to be a person that they know they can come to and feel safe, be exactly who they are and talk about who they want to be. I do the work that I do because I think youth have the right to sexuality education, and I see education as justice. Unfortunately in our state though, that education is denied to many youth, especially ones that identify as being gay or lesbian and my youth council is working to change that. It’s a privilege for me to be able to work the gay and lesbian young people on my council. The selflessness and courage that they exhibit working to empower other youth to work towards justice inspires me and I’m so proud of them and the work that they do.
A few years ago my friend and I watched the movie Milk. As the credits rolled he hesitated for a minute then asked “So how is it exactly that you get HIV”? I told him and then I asked “How did you think you could get HIV”? He responded that he had never learned in school, and was never really sure, but thought you could get it from being around gay people. “But you are friends with gay people” I said, “Does that mean this whole time you were thinking you might get HIV? “ Yes, he said, but I didn’t really see it as a reason not to be their friends”. My youth council and I work towards a world where everyone receives sex education, and everyone accepts and loves like that.