Posts Tagged ‘safe space’

This past Saturday was the day of our big agency fundraiser, Dare to Dream. I joke about it being the 9th time we were running an event that we meant to offer just once. I am asked each year to provide a “state of the agency” commentary to bring our donors up to speed on new and/or fun things that have happened in the past year since we last met. Our landscape for LGBT service provision has changed. Our expectations have changed. I’ve changed. Here’s why.

From Youth Outlook state of the agency, October 21, 2017:

I promised the board members I wouldn’t get sad and sappy while I was up here so let’s pick up where we left off last year. Last year at this event, four days after the election, we talked about community, hope, persistence and determination.

Eleven and a half months later, I can tell you that determination has only grown. I’d love to be able to say we’ve been unaffected by the changes but that wouldn’t be true. A few weeks ago, I even wrote an open letter to the Youth Outlook kids which you will hear in a few minutes. (https://urbantidepool.com/2017/10/05/an-open-letter-to-the-youth-outlook-youth/) While most of the responses to it were positive, one parent did tell me I was fear mongering and then told me I was living in a fantasy because the world has never been and will never be safe.

My first thought to that was –is it fear mongering when I tell you outright what I am afraid of or I repeat what kids have said they are afraid of? I’m not sure I understand your use of that word.

My next thought to that was Wow. We will always believe in safe space. I know what we’ve done in just this past year to create safe, brave space for kids who were struggling with assault, homelessness, rape, and thoughts of suicide.

It’s not like we’re wearing blinders. We know what we are up against. Any one of the staff team can quote Southern Poverty Law Center information that anti-LGBT hate crimes have increased across the country, moving us from the number 4 spot to the number 3 spot since November, outranked only by anti-Black and anti-immigration hate crimes. Anyone of them can tell you that according to GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators’ Network, we had seen national declines in verbal and physical harassment and sexual violence for several consecutive years, until 2015, when we saw an uptick in every one of those categories and we’re hearing stories that suggest we will probably see another increase in those stats when the 2017 report is released.

We know those things are out there. We’ve seen the Confederate flags flying in our neighborhoods and we’ve led conversations with our kids about white supremacy, privilege and violence.

You know what else is out there? One–A new, rural Youth Outlook drop in center. We put our heads together with a wonderful group of people from the Open Table United Church of Christ in Ottawa last spring and before I could blink twice, we had a drop in center running there that became the second biggest program that we offer.

So that’s out there.  Two– We’ve successfully launched about one new drop in center per year. In a big year, we’ve done two, but those are the exception. This year, we’re averaging about one new request per month to come into a different community and open a another site. The need is there and people are responding to it in ways we have not seen before.

Three–About a month ago, we called together the first meeting of the leadership of the countywide networks of professionals that work with LGBT kids. The network groups are responsible for planning professional development in each of their locations. We started with one in DuPage County, then added DeKalb, then Kane, then Suburban Cook created their own modeled after ours, and now three other counties are considering joining this effort to keep putting accurate, positive information about LGBT kids out into the conversation.

Four–Last June, Youth Outlook had the busiest Pride month we’ve had in the history of the agency, as more corporations than ever asked us to speak for their events. We said yes—to everything. It was Pride month. We weren’t going to do sad and sappy.

In the background of those requests, I took a Friday afternoon off to plant some flowers in my back yard. Some of you have heard me reference my neighbors. They are a rough crowd. So here I am spending my Friday afternoon playing in the dirt, one of my favorite things, and I can hear the neighbors on the other side of my fence. It’s Dyke this, Dyke that, and hey how much fun is it to park that dyke next door into her driveway so she can’t get out past the fire hydrant and the end of my truck?  Yuk, yuk, yuk.

This is, unfortunately, not anything new. I’ve been listening to these people for several years. What was new this year was that it didn’t stop there. I did what I always do—I channeled my inner Michelle Obama and when they went low, I went high. I tuned them out. I tuned them out until one of them approached the fence near where I was working, unzipped his fly and urinated on the fence so that it splashed through on me.

It took two days for it to fully register with me what had happened. I am 52 years old. I have a master’s degree and I run an agency that helps kids. And that man called me a dyke and peed on me. I have to wonder—if it took me at 52, with my social network and my professional status, two days to be able to start processing that event, what about the 12 year olds whose families do not know who they are and they can’t dare say it? How are they managing these situations without support?

Later that week, Carrie, Carolyn and I all had Pride presentations to do. We had an agency to talk about and kids in six counties to support. We can skip the sad and the sappy. But by all means, let’s talk about determination. Let’s talk about defiance and standing up for ourselves and for our kids.

Let’s talk about looking around at what’s going on and saying not just no, but HELL no? This might have gone over in 1998 when I started working here. But now? This is not going to fly. We will not stop talking about what helps LGBT young people feel safe. Part of that is acknowledging what makes them feel unsafe. We will not stop talking about it, no matter how many times I am told that we’re living in a fantasy because we’ve already been told too many times that Youth Outlook IS the only safe space that some kids experience.

I believe we are in for some giant challenges in the coming year. That’s an opportunity for us to step up or step off.

Ask any one of us about this topic, determination. Stepping up is the only option.

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Taken in part from my address to the 200 attendees at Dare to Dream, October 18, 2013.

Last week I joined one of our volunteers to help with the GSA group at the middle school.  It was their open house day and the students had invited other people to come get know them and get involved in their GSA. I got to meet seven amazing 8th graders and one amazing 7th grader, including one guy who had dyed his hair pink for breast cancer awareness month.

Afterward, I had some time to think about those kids and the shifting world in which they are starting to find their adult footing. I do a lot of presentations on developmental issues, so I love this kind of compare and contrast exploration. I don’t mind admitting–it was a little depressing to realize that those students were mostly born in the year 2000—they’re Y2K babies. When I considered the many things that have changed in the past few years and how old they would have been when those changes happened, it was mind-bending.

Think about the enormous milestones we’ve passed. Y2K kids were 4 years old when Massachusetts defied conservative groups across the country and passed their same sex marriage bill. They were 8 when we elected our first black president and if they remember any president before him, there is only one other guy to remember. Imagine how different the political landscape might look having only seen two presidents in action—one white and the other black where women have always been front-running candidates. They were 10 when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, 11 when IL passed its civil union bill, 13 when parts of DOMA were struck down and they have gone through middle school watching the debate about same sex marriage in IL play out. They were born after we lost Matthew Shepard, and HIV has always been a chronic, long-term, treatable disease. Can you picture this?

They have a different world than we did, and their world is shifting-still—a lot. But there’s one thing that has not shifted as much as we need to see. While I was there last week, we did a short survey with the attendees to find out what they’d like to use their time for during their GSA meetings.  On nearly every page, they asked for help with how to deal with bullying.

I cannot tell you how many conversations we have had with gay adults in the last two years where we are asked why this agency even still exists. I can’t tell you because I’ve lost track. The impression held by so many adults, adults who themselves endured year after year of trauma in schools and in homes, that our world has shifted SO much that the kids are fine now and why even do we need a Youth Outlook (www.youth-outlook.org) …let me tell you, those folks have never been more off base and the lack of awareness is frightening.

Y2K kids need LGBT adults more than ever before. As they come out younger and younger, it is imperative that we create a safety net to support them. The problems that my agency came together to address in 1998 have not disappeared—they have merely migrated to a younger group of kids with fewer resources. The fact that nearly every survey we got back asked us how to handle being bullied—questions coming from kids in the most progressive, LGBT-friendly school in our 5 county service area, where the entire district received training on the issues faced by LGBT kids tells you –it isn’t over yet and our kids are not safe.

Y2K kids are not typically in a position to decide to go to another school or to demand to move to a more supportive community. They don’t have choices. But we do.

We have the choice to acknowledge that we are still needed. We have the choice to believe that we can make a difference by showing up to help run a drop in center or supporting a GSA. We have the choice to open our minds to the risks they face- –not so different from those that many of us faced, and given the cyber attacks that some of our kids have described, in some ways worse. When you get right down to it, we have the choice to believe that those risks still exist and let it determine our behavior. We all have the choice to be supportive of LGBT kids, to be their safety net. Our collective world is shifting and they need us to get through this shift. If I could ask you anything, I’d ask you not to kid yourself that things are all better and take this message into YOUR world. I dare you –I double dog dare you–to be the ally our kids need.

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This post is inspired by Domestic Violence Awareness month and based on a scene described in Urban Tidepool. In keeping with the Urban Tidepool theme and with previous posts, let us take a look at those places in systems where kids sometimes get lost. As parents and service providers, we all stand on the theory that if a kid is being hurt, they should run and tell some adult that they trust who can help them. Should we be more specific? “Go and talk to THAT person!”  Should we only encourage them to talk to their parents? How does that work in families where the parents are involved in the violence? How do we go about determining who is that safe person that they can run to? And what can we do if it goes wrong?

Dear Father M.,

Do you remember that Saturday in February, 1978? I do. It was brutally cold that day. Did you find it odd that I showed up at church without a jacket? Did you find it odd that I met you at the doors as you were opening them for confession? Had I been you, I might have found both of those things odd.

I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on the jacket. Maybe you thought I lived close enough to the church that I just ran across the street without thinking about it. People did that. Maybe you thought it was merely a matter of a few seconds that I was outside in that frigid weather and then I’d be welcomed into the warmth of the vestibule.

I’m even willing to give you the benefit of the doubt about me meeting you at the door…almost as if I was desperate to get inside. Maybe you thought I had some dark, scary secret to tell you in the confessional. People did that too.

You know what I’m not willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on? Come on, think about. I’ll bet you can guess. No? Maybe you don’t remember.

I wish I could forget.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”

No matter what else happened that day, I’m not able to give you the benefit of the doubt over me telling you what was happening in my house and you ignoring it. (Yeah, that kind of explains why I showed up in the middle of February not wearing a jacket, doesn’t it? Sometimes we have to do that.) I’m not willing to overlook the fact that when I told you I was being hurt, the best you could offer me was the directive to pray harder so the person who was hurting me would stop.

Is that really what they taught you in seminary? When a kid comes to you—and let’s be honest, Father, I was 12 years old…I was just a kid…and discloses being hurt, that you should suggest that the power of prayer can make battering stop? That a kid has input into an abusive situation? What kind of help was that to suggest that I had control over a volatile situation through the vehemence of my pleas to your god? Was it the influence of the neighborhood? Was it the era? Or was it just easier?

I’ve spent more than 25 years in the social work field and I’ve had my share of days when kids came to me and said something similar to what I said to you. And you know how those conversations go. There is never an easy way through those and the most important thing we have to stress is that being hurt is not the kid’s fault. I hope with everything in me that I have not failed them with whatever action I took, that nothing I said or did implied to them that they were responsible for their situation, that they, in fact, could control it if only…  If only what? The single acceptable answer in those situations is always, “This is not your fault.”

I came to you, Father, cold and shivering and beaten and all I wanted to hear you say was, “This is not your fault.” But you turned your back and looked away.

Catholicism is far behind me but I still hope that new priests are coached in how to handle such situations, to be supportive and maybe a little kinder to the developing, small human being sitting in front of them. We have a responsibility to those developing, small humans to treat them kindly and with some dignity. You know, like people. Someday maybe I’ll be able to give you the benefit of the doubt on this point too, that perhaps you gave me such a sad and hurtful answer because that was all you’d been taught. I really want to believe you didn’t turn away because it was easier that way. But out of my doubt, what I’m left with now is simply, “Bless you, Father, for you too have sinned…” And I hope that when you utter those words, you are met with  more compassion than you offered in 1978.

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