Today I attended my first workshop with theBridge 13 program that I interviewed for a few weeks ago. (If you recall, it’s the outreach, diversity training arm of the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center here in Portland.) My boss and the “youth facilitator” led the workshop while myself, another new volunteer, also from Pacific, and another staff from SMYRC sat in the back and observed. We went into a class at Lewis and Clark College of grad students, all studying to be high school and middle school counselors and did a quick, introductory session on gender and sexuality sensitivity.
It was a great experience. I had so much fun just watching the workshop take place, and seeing how eager some of the students were to be interactive, and seeing just how hungry for this kind of knowledge they were. Several of them came up afterwards and gave sincere thanks for coming, that we had made them think about things in whole new ways, and inspired them to delve deeper into some of these issues on their own time. Even though I didn’t even do anything (yet; I will be co-leading next time probably), it was so gratifying to know that what we were doing was actually having an impact. These are the people we need to be reaching. It sounds cliche to say, but these are the people who are going to be getting jobs in the next year or so and eventually taking over these institutions and they aren’t absolutely scared to death to deal with this stuff. They are the future and they want to understand.
I had a relatively easy time in high school. I struggled, but I never was exposed to any real violence, or rejection by my peers or family. I never had trusted adults turn on me and betray me. My parents never kicked me out (you wouldn’t believe how many people have asked me in my life if my parents disowned me when they found out I was gay) or beat me up. I’ve never been gay-bashed (though I think I’ve pretty narrowly escaped it a couple of times). It’s difficult for me to imagine being in a place like that now, much less when I was a teenager and had no power, resources, stability, or perspective. Sometimes it seems trivial to go around schooling people to not assume that certain people identify as certain pronouns just because they look like they do, but children are so fragile, and tonight in this workshop it finally hit me. These people took this information seriously and they had open hearts to learn and accept it (especially some of the men, which surprised me, because I just assume most straight men are still neanderthals), and I was truly moved. I concluded definitively that yes, this is what I want to do with my life. This is a way that my life can have meaning, not just for me, but for society and the world.
I got off easy, but so many people don’t, and if you look at any single risk factor you can think of for teenagers, from smoking, to suicide, to dangerous sex, to gang violence, to whatever, the rates are higher for gay or questioning youth. Across the board.
There is still so much resistance, and so many adults just want to close their eyes and ears to this and remain ignorant or pretend it doesn’t exist, and hearing stories about how so many adults still react to kids with emotional problems related to sexuality issues is shocking. Even in Portland, which is supposed to be so enlightened (which I’m quickly learning is not necessarily the case, despite its reputation), my boss said that administrators of schools here say there’s no need for us to do a workshop in their school because they don’t have any gay students. Definitively.
I’m excited to be at a place where I’m needed and wanted, and where people actually have their shit together. It feels really good and like this is how things are supposed to be going. And I also got hired at the Parry Center, the children’s residential treatment center I interviewed at last week. I’m about to be very busy but I’m thrilled about it.