It’s Time to Reach Out to, Fight for and Listen to Our Youth

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By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist–

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend and speak at The Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth Hearings, held locally at Holyoke Community College. And some of the testimony was quite emotional. That testimony and those youth who so desperately need our help as allies, role models and advocates, in all of our communities, are what I’d like to talk about.
As for this being a column usually focusing on trans issues, I will note simply that our trans and gender-nonconforming youth represent one of the most at-risk segments of these communities. They are often the hardest to reach and the most disadvantaged in terms of services and resources available.

I’m involved in a great deal of activism: lobbying, writing, speaking, marching, travelling and basically shaking babies and kissing hands. But the most gratifying work I get to do is with youth—most particularly LGBTQ Youth from Holyoke and the surrounding communities. I have chaperoned at various events, emceed the Western Massachusetts Youth Pride Prom and I have had the great privilege of working with the amazing youth from HERA, the Holyoke Equal Rights Association.
Whenever my chaotic schedule allows, or honestly, when HERA’s overworked, enthusiastic and all-too-often under-acknowledged adult coordinator Amy Epstein orders me to (“Lorelei! You’re coming to HERA this Thursday to teach Improv!” “Yes, Friend Amy.”), I come to HERA’s weekly meetings and run my Queer Improv workshops with them, which basically means I get to put everyone up on their feet, having fun, being loud, and expressing themselves, their lives and their feelings! It’s improv: all I do is give them some guidance and games to work with. It’s their voices that fill the room and tell the stories.

And it is those voices I heard today telling their stories in an infinitely more intimidating environment than I provide. Before an impressive-looking panel at a lonely microphone in an expansive auditorium, the youth who spoke told a tale of unimaginable bravery in a still very hostile world. Some told stories of acceptance, while others spoke of very real physical danger and hostility from not just their communities and peers, but their families as well.

I’d like to share with you a pair of stories that were submitted as testimony today that the youth were kind enough to share with me.

“I’m bisexual. My mother doesn’t know. I’m afraid to tell her because I’m her only daughter. How am I supposed to tell my mother that her only daughter likes girls AND guys? She won’t accept me. She finds it disgusting. Her words exactly are, ‘Guys are supposed to be with girls. No girls and girls and guys and guys. People who are gay are connected to the devil.’ It scares me. I love my mother. I want her to accept me, flaws and all. It’d be so [much] easier if she knew more about gay people. She’d understand how it is. … She’ll be OK.”

“The day my Mom found out I was bisexual she came home, sat me on the couch and started yelling at me. She told me if I wanted to leave, then leave. So I went into my room, started packing my stuff. When I was packing, my mother walked in and said that I was actually leaving and got very upset.  
She started throwing punches at me. After a while, she left. A few minutes later she came in with her phone and smacked me across the face with it.  

When she left I jumped out the window with my bags. I kissed my brother and sister goodbye and left. I went to my best friend’s house. I was a runaway for seven days, then I turned myself in. Ever since then me and my mother haven’t been the same. I’ve run away four times and gotten arrested every time.

I was put in a program. In the program me and my mother were put in family therapy. We sorta resolved our issues and she’s OK with my sexuality. We’re not as close as before but we’re working on it. I believe that we will be the way we were before.”

The thing that strikes me the most about this pair of stories is not the horror, but the hope in them. Hope that if they can just be accepted as they are, everything will be OK.

They stand out as who they are. Their proud self-acceptance is something I wish I could share with every single older LGBTQ adult I know who is struggling with accepting themselves as they are at many years, or even decades, older.

But despite this self-acceptance, they still need us. They need YOU! So many of these youth, most especially the ones who live in communities like Holyoke, isolated both physically and culturally from the resources available in more privileged communities, need US to reach out to THEM.

These youth, often youth of color, are up against so much already. Not just bullying from their peers. Their families, churches, educators, even the police and the organizations that are supposed to be there to help them are often against them. They are turned away, condemned, harassed and attacked simply for being themselves.

They need those of us who have privilege, power, big wallets or just big mouths to stand up for them and with them. To say, no, you will not treat our youth this way. We need to go to the people who are already working with them, inside the communities and ask how can we help? Where are we needed?

It’s time to listen, to act, and to help keep that hope alive. Slainte!

* Lorelei Erisis, former Miss Trans New England, can be contacted at: loreleierisis@therainbowtimesmass.com.