Young people need to know they are loved and that they have our support. I believe those of us who have survived into adulthood have a responsibility to support and encourage youth who are struggling with many of the same issues we faced at their age. The fact that we understand these issues based on our personal experiences makes us uniquely qualified to provide this critical support. Our society is in a state of crisis brought about by a basis lack of love and respect for each other. Simply put, all people deserve love and respect regardless of any of the circumstances our society uses to segregate us into various sub-groups.
My heart hurts each time I hear that another young person has committed suicide because they felt they were not important, less than human, sinful, ugly, or alone. Recently, after working all week dealing with local bullying issues and other concerns shared with me because of my work I saw online that another young girl only 12 years old committed suicide here in Alabama. It is suspected that her death was caused by bullying. When I saw this I broke down, cried, called friends, and looked for personal support because I was tired and angry. How many of these beautiful young people have to die before we say as a society, “No More!” The anger I felt was quickly transformed into more resolve to continue the work I started two years ago when I founded GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services in Huntsville, Alabama. When the agency was founded there were almost no resources available for our youth in this region of the country. I am happy to say that we have changed this situation and that we work diligently to provide resources, support groups, and to educate the community on issues affecting our youth. We advocate for the entire GLBT community by speaking publicly on issues such as HIV infection, homelessness, sexual exploitation of youth, bullying, and drug and alcohol abuse. We use our voices to share a message of love and acceptance in a region of the country dominated by religious organizations that most often tell our community that we are an abomination. They tell us God does not love us. They want us to believe that we are sinners and will end up in a place called Hell. Needless to say, I do not believe this and take every opportunity given to me to speak against this bigotry and hatred.
I want you to understand some of what is shared with me on a regular basis. Recently I asked approximately 50 teenagers how many of them knew another young person who had been homeless. I estimate that 75% of these youth raised their hands. I was shocked even though I probably know more about this subject than the average adult because I try to stay informed as we develop support services. This did not prepare me for the answer I received to my next question. I asked them how many knew a young person who had attempted suicide. I was speechless, which is rare for me, when almost every young person raised their hand! This week I heard a young man share about his attempted suicide, a young lady told me that she was harassed and bullied to the point of leaving public school to be home schooled, a young lady told me online that her mother told her she wished she would kill herself so that she would not live gay and go to Hell, and a mother called me because her daughter was suspended from school for taking about her girlfriend. This young lady has endured four years of harassment and when she attempted to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance in her school she was denied the same right given to other organizations. Her mother has tried to work with the school administration for years. She finally reached out and found our agency and asked for our help. I am also working with a local Rabbi to address bullying that has been reported in our schools toward Jewish students and students who may be GLBT. This is just part of what is happening in one small city in our country with one small agency in a two week span not including the support groups we offer and other on-going projects. I hope you see that there is a tremendous need for the entire community to come together to create a cultural shift toward love and respect instead of bigotry and hate which is thinly veiled behind religious dogma.
I am proud to be able to say that our agency has a volunteer base composed of Christians, atheists, and pagans, and that we have previously had Jewish and Native American volunteers. Volunteers are welcome from all walks of life as long as they are people who love our youth and our community. I believe this mix of experiences is a vital resource for our youth. I tell our volunteers that we never know who will walk into one of our groups and who they will connect with on a personal level. I encourage all of our volunteers to use their experiences and beliefs to ensure that our youth know that we love them and that we are here to support them. For most of these youth we are the first and only group to share this with them face to face.
I recently moved into a new phase of my life when I shared a poem I wrote about my history of addiction to meth-amphetamine and became a Spoken Word artist. Taking this step has helped me shed some of my personal inhibitions when speaking publicly. I now feel a new energy, a new passion when I speak. I tell groups that we have a voice and we must use it. I share that spoken words shared with love & respect heal and that choosing to remain silent can kill. Those of us in a position to speak publicly must use these opportunities to counter the cruel hurtful messages that our community so often receives. I encourage you to find your voice either spoken or written and use it to change the world one person at a time. I ask you not to give in to the defeatist attitudes and apathy that I often see in our community. I encourage you to be the miracle you are dreaming of. Together we are doing great things!
GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services, Inc.