By: Jason Lydon/TRT Columnist-
I must say that the past few weeks have made it very difficult to focus on any one thing. There are revolutions happening globally in ways we have not seen in generations. The uprising in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and the growing campaigns in Jordan, Syria, Algeria, and elsewhere are all part of a people’s movement to draw great inspiration from. Right here in the United States people are occupying the State House in Wisconsin, demanding their rights as human beings be respected. This is an unprecedented moment and as LGBTQ folks we are in the thick of it as well. We are in all of this because we are part of all of these communities, globally, nationally, and locally.
On February 24th I had the opportunity to take part in a Massachusetts struggle for justice. Young people in the Commonwealth are organizing together to pressure the Patrick Administration to take a stand in support of youth jobs. These young people are pushing to restore and replace funding to two youth jobs line items, the School to Career program and Summer Works program. Well over a thousand youth, along with their adult allies, converged on that State House to show that the $8 million in youth jobs money would be spent to save their lives. These programs could produce 2,700 jobs for young people, specifically young people who have less access to other resources.
As I stood outside the State House I spoke with three youth and an adult staff person from The City School, a youth-led adult supported organization in Dorchester that “develops and strengthens the power of youth to work towards building a just society.” These young people are fighting for jobs because it gives them a deep sense of independence, putting money in their pocket that they can make choices about. It gives them workplace experience that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. One young person explained to me that having a job gives him a great opportunity to better himself. These are the things young people are striving for. Ruby Reyes, Co-Executive Director of The City School explained, “Today young people are needed to help financially support their families yet young people do not qualify for unemployment.”
These youth need to bring home paychecks to help keep the family budget going. The economy we are living in today forces many adults into unemployment and underemployment, this reality requires a large response from our government, including the funding of youth jobs.
The push for youth jobs directly impacts GLBTQ young people. Thanks to the data available through the Youth Risk Behavior Survey in Massachusetts we are able to see the disparities in health between gay, lesbian, bisexual youth and their heterosexual peers. GLB young people are over four times more likely to have skipped school in the past month because of feeling unsafe and over twice as likely to have been injured or threatened with a weapon at school when compared to peers. As we are pushing for changes on the school level and increasing the safety of young GLBTQ people during the school day we also need to make it so they can go to work so that rather than simply telling them, “It Gets Better,” we can support them making their own lives better now! Too often youth are referred to as the leaders of our future, but they are leaders of today. The voices of young people need to shape our struggle for GLBTQ liberation. One of the ways adults can be allies is by supporting youth jobs and being sure youth get access to the resources they need to make life better today. Youth leadership is there and it simply needs adults to listen and take action in solidarity with their vision of a better world. I felt honored to be part of the rally on February 24th and the work is not over, I implore others to join me in standing with the young people who are demanding funding for youth jobs, funding that will save the lives of young people.