Last night in Philadelphia, I met with a talented group of activists, many of whom populate, and serve as leaders in, LGBTQ health organizations in the city. During this meeting, we began to sketch a vision for a series of events beginning in late-September, and ending in mid-October, that would address what we all agreed has been the collective failure of the larger LGBTQ movement to recognize, celebrate and reach out to the LGBTQ youth, particularly those of color, who are defining, aand will define, the future of this movement.
Where did the inspiration for this develop? For myself, it was back when the film Gun Hill Road was shown at Philadelphia's LGBT film festival, QFest. The film is the first that I knew to focus on a transgender latina youth character growing up in the Bronx. While I felt that the film had some flaws, Harmony Santana's performance in that film was nothing short of a revelation, and actually made me realize the power that artistic representations have in igniting community change.
Soon after, I wrote an article, for Colorlines Magazine, on Gun Hill Road, interviewing director Rashaad Ernesto. John Li Onz, who is a dedicated LGBTQ community activist in Philadelphia, read the article and was inspired to go see the film himself. After he saw it in New York, he too saw its value in igniting a larger dialogue in the Philadelphia area.
Following this, we began communicating in a Facebook thread with other activists in the community, including Quincy Barack Greene, who runs the CDC-funded HIV-prevention campaign Brothers United, which explicitly targets young black men who have sex with men, and Q Spot, a monthly forum for LGBTQ youth ages 18-29. During the course of these discussions, we realized we wanted to have a multi-tiered approach that brought together as many different LGBTQ youth of color organizations in the city as possible.
But before we met last night in person, some of us for the first time, we realized we didn't really know what we talking about during these initial conversations. We only knew that the film Gun Hill Road was a starting point, but we didn't have any other details worked out. The first event, which we realized would help begin a much larger dialogue, was to get Rashaad Ernesto Green to attend a screening in Philadelphia and do a Q&A afterward. We were happy to settle on September 21st as that day.
What, however, would be next? And how would we target, more specifically, LGBTQ youth of color from a position that empowered them (as opposed to us talking down to them)? We realized early on that two separate events would have to occur.
The first would utilize Q Spot as a youth-only forum, similar in design to their previous discussion on homophobia in faith-based communities, that would intentionally be open-ended, allowing for youth to define their concerns, rather than us dictating them. As some in this meeting were careful to point out, for many queer youth of color many broader social issues affect them, including poverty, homelessness, or access to healthcare. This forum, planned at the beginning of LGBTQ History Month, would serve as an incubator for the next event.
How could we get the broader LGBTQ community to hear these struggles? Part of what we highlighted as a consistent problem in the city was the failure of many non-profits to come together, often on the basis of political struggles related to resources, to hear youth empowered. So we knew we had to go big in order to truly allow youth to develop their own history and to get others to hear them say most effectively, "We write our history in the present."
That is why the William Way Community Center has generously agreed to donate space for a larger community forum scheduled in mid-October on the heels of the Trans March and OutFest. The forum would bring together political leaders, youth organizers from various LGBTQ organizations, and youth leaders to speak to how they are reaching out to LGBTQ youth of color and what the future entails. It's also about engaging in conversations, that will be determined through the film screening and Q Spot forum, on where the broader movement fails to include youth of color and how these gaps can bridged.
All of these events are meant to begin answering the question: how can we make new history?
I want to preface all of this by saying that we don't have a romanticized vision of community activism and change. We actively recognize the difficulty in bringing various youth organizations together, often when larger institutional pressures force them to be in conflict with each other. We recognize the challenges that exist in getting youth, especially those identify as trans, to attend these events. We see the passions surrounding politics, and realize the in-fighting that can occur.
But after last night it was clear that we could envision a new dialogue forming, that we all recognized the capacity for writing history to bring us together and, despite the challenges, the promise of storytelling to ignite change is far too great to ignore. So what's next? Uncertainty, of course, but mostly just a renewed sense of optimism and hopefulness as we take the next steps in making all of this possible.