After years of working with the LBGTQ community, I have found that we get things started. Be it activism fighting HIV/AIDS, homelessness, drug abuse -- we get things started. However, my experience has taught me that, after some time, we turn to other issues, away from what is important. We have a problem keeping it moving. We have programs that have fallen by the wayside because of a lack of peer leadership among community-based organizations.
So many of our youth do not feel that there is anyone they can trust. They never had someone positive to use as a role model; their lives were changed by disclosing their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their HIV status; their development was marred by violence or neglect or blight. It is not that they lost stability, but that they never found stable ground in the first place. I personally know that there are youth out there who have never heard, "I love you," or even, "I care about you." We have got to find a way to reach them, and let them know that just because mommy or daddy, sister or brother was not there, someone has been in that dark place where you are, and has overcome the obstacles. And most importantly, someone is willing to help you love yourself, to help you make better choices.
If it had not been for the community-based organizations that reached out to help lift me up, from a strange place, and with no coping tools, I really don't know if I could have made it through the depression and the thoughts of suicide.
Peer-led programs that reach out to young, LGBTQ Youth, and helped them to just feel better about today, to maintain a positive outlook, and to make better choices are no longer said to be effective. Some of the most awesome success stories that I have witnessed have come from programs staffed by people who have themselves overcome homelessness, GLBT and HIV disclosure, neglect, rejection, and stigma. As outreach workers, how can we help our youth make better decisions if the programs with visible positive outcomes are the programs that have to struggle to get funding, or even be recognized as needed services? Without such programs, how can we hold these young people responsible for not knowing how to look at things from a different perspective? How can we expect them to feel better about who they are, or where they are going?
We can no longer afford to let our youth go on thinking that there is no future for them.
There are some things that no amount of formal education can teach. Understanding, on a personal level, the struggles of those that you are helping to overcome unidentified barriers and undiagnosed mental issues, is essential to community-based programming. I am not saying that education is not important, but it is equally important to understand how we got through, and to understand how it feels to get an HIV diagnosis, be bullied, homeless, gay, and rejected. This can only be learned by through trial and tribulation.
We need to maintain and enhance the programs that we know are working, and stop allowing them to be pushed aside just to fail at something new. We need to support the people who are willing to work late hours to go out and reach our youth where they are, those who refuse to let 5pm be their cutoff time. Let's support those organizations that want to go the extra step to reach that youth who has never heard the words, "Let me help you." We truly need to keep those in our communities up front and speaking out to support the causes that affect our youth.
Let's come together people, stand up and speak out! And keep it MOVING!!