50 Years After Stonewall, QTPoC Youth Teach Me That Our Kinship Keeps Us Strong
Carolina Cormack Orellana
Watching a group become a community, especially one based on shared identities, is a magical thing. Over the past four years, I have worked with young people in different capacities. One of my favorite experiences has been facilitating support groups and social opportunities for LGBTQ+ young people. As a facilitator, my role is to show up and nurture the space. More often than not, I leave feeling nurtured myself. The most heartening thing I have observed is how many young people have the bravery to seek out resources, and how many adults are out here supporting them in doing that.
No matter what you’re going through, it takes courage to reach out and ask for help. There is bravery in seeking out the resources you need. Sometimes, community is what you need, and the young people I work with have done a fantastic job of looking for it and finding it. Even in places where structured support groups don’t exist -- or where queer people are actively persecuted -- young LGBTQ+ folks find ways to gather and support one another. Resilience is a cousin to bravery.
I came of age in Catholic school. You ever been? You grow up hearing that God loves you and made you From His Holy Image, but then right around 7th grade, a portion of the class gets some bad news. It is not fun to sit in a classroom and hear a religion teacher tell you that being gay isn’t a sin, but acting on it is -- year after year after year. They also skipped the part about how the rules applied to bisexuals like myself. When I entered my all-girl Catholic high school, I started to meet more and more people like me; but we were unsure of where to place ourselves in the moral hierarchy constructed around us.
There were several added layers of marginalization; we were a 98% Latinx high school, and apart from religion, our cultures had imposed strict gender expectations on us since birth. But even there we found ways to be authentic among ourselves. Our truths lived in the chisme we shared at lunch, and in the bathrooms, and after soccer practice while we waited for our parents to pick us up. You can’t stop that from happening, only hinder it and force it behind closed doors. We found our ways to resist. And it is this hopeful energy I appreciate about working with young people.
One of the most magical groups I’ve had the privilege to work with is for LGBTQ+ Youth of Color. Every week, a cohort of high school students meets to share, process and empathize with each others’ experiences. We are not all of the same race, ethnicity, gender identity, or class, but the kinship that unites us is strong. Regardless of how we identify, we all know the feeling of being “the Other” in more ways than one. We can understand the nuances of each others’ experiences. Our ancestors fought for us to be able to meet openly, on a weeknight, and play Pictionary over Costco frozen pizza that I probably burned. That sounds like a joke, but read it again -- it’s radical.
As a young person, there was not one adult in my orbit that I can remember ever feeling brave enough to talk with about my sexuality. There were definitely teachers and family members I felt safer around than others, but I never had the courage to ask the questions I needed answers to, and the space was never created for me to facilitate that. Now, as an adult, I can understand the complex positions that the adults in my life were in. I can understand the systems that were at play in my youth. I can distance myself from toxic environments and people, and reach out to my Chosen Family for support. These are skills I have had to develop, and I am grateful to have them, even if they came in a little later than convenient.
I am honored to be a witness to something as radical as spaces where young people can be their most authentic selves without compromising anything. I know how meaningful it would have been for me to have that. On the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots, I think about all the work that is left to be done and all the people who don’t have these resources yet, or the skills to seek them out. I think about the systems keeping things this way. In a society that has made tremendous progress, yet not enough. The youth that I’ve met and the adult allies I have worked with give me hope. Something is going right, because we’re still here. And we’ll continue to gather in our special places at the end of the day, secret or not, being seen and cared for and nurtured by each other. We will continue to resist.
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