– Juan Gabriel Padilla
On Saturday, the main feature of the Creating Change plenary session was a panel of queer youth of color. The discussion dealt with the challenges that youth organizing faces, highlighted by a recent report from FIERCE (Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment), which you can read below. The report, Coming Out, Stepping Up (embedded below), illuminates many challenges facing youth advocacy, including increased homelessness, insufficient and decreased resources, increased rates of HIV/AIDS and STIs, and strategies that are not effectively utilizing youth leadership.
The general theme that the young folks spoke to was the difference between laws and conditions. This distinction should resonate throughout the entire movement, but often doesn’t. There will be a day when the laws change, and those issues will no longer be of primary concern. There are certain conditions, however, that will persist, and in the interim, they are being totally ignored.
In general, 25-40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Some cities might report even higher rates. As social services—like access to health care, clothing, food, and housing—are cut, the situation only worsens for these young people and the centers trying to support them. Add in transphobia and gender-based violence, police harassment and violence, school safety, HIV/AIDS awareness, and personal wellness and mental health, and you see a whole lot of challenge that is often completely unsupported by “the movement.”
What’s worse is that advocacy organizations often take advantage of young people without reciprocating support. There are a lot of opportunities for leadership development available for our queer youth, but after the youth show up for the marriage equality rally, they never hear from the big organizations anymore. More importantly, young people are rarely included as decision makers or organizers. As one of the panelists pointed out (paraphrased):
Adults have to be open to the changes of the next generation. Youth should be empowered and trusted, not just ordered.
Also missing from our movement are organizations that work to support both youth and adults. There are only 101 youth organizing centers across our country attempting to shoulder the entire burden of supporting queer youth, with many states having no such resources whatsoever. There are no organizations that serve the whole community and are inclusive of the unique and vital needs of queer youth.
I was very impressed with the panel that spoke during the plenary. These are amazingly confident and poised leaders who are committed to righting the wrongs of the world. They know the struggle of their peers and will stop at nothing to try to improve the circumstances for queer youth.
Gabriel Padilla was particularly passionate, lighting a fire under the conference’s collective ass by saying that change is going to come because…
Radical queers are going to fuck shit up!
Ash Hammond echoed that energy, solemnly stating:
When I’m sitting in the audience at Creating Change 2020 listening to a panel of youth, I hope they aren’t talking about any of the things I’m talking about today.
Truly, we have to recognize that achieving queer equality means much more than just passing ENDA or overturning DOMA and DADT. If our society cares so much about children (as our opponents often remind us), we owe it to them to prioritize their needs and their struggle.
Read the FIERCE report below and find out what you can do to better support queer youth in our nation: