We were beginning our first book of the month—Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness. The youth were excited to begin her memoir, not to mention the vote to read her book was unanimous. At that moment it hit me, they were craving to see more leaders who look like them, who look like us.
The youth were looking for trans role models, people of color leaders, and individual who they could both relate to and learn from through past experiences. Working at the Los Angeles LGBT Center shortly after college was one of the best experiences in my young burgeoning professional career. I was hired to be a Youth Advocate for their Transitional Living Program (TLP) that advocated for LGBT youth homelessness. This program was designed to help finalize the last stages of their independent living skills. The youth in this program have demonstrated achievable capacity to fulfill the requirements needed for this stage in the program (e.g. work, case management plan, etc.) before they get their own home.
I case-managed youth on a case-by-case basis, and assisted them with resources to succeed in the Transitional Living Program-- such as helping them compile their resume, helping them learn Spanish, and even begin the TLP’s first book club.
This work is very personal to me, given that I was once a homeless youth like them. Back in high school I was kicked out of my house and forced to couch surf with friends and chosen family. I was about to finish my last semester in high school, but I had no other choice than to seek shelter with friends and sustain myself with two jobs in order to graduate high school and attend a four-year university.
Being homeless helped me appreciate what I had taken for granted: a home; however, through this ordeal I understood the meaning of resilience and commitment. The fact that I stayed focused on graduating high school demonstrates that I have the consistency and drive needed to succeed and advocate for this cause. I remember how difficult it was for me to work two jobs, study for my Advanced Placement (AP) classes and still graduate with honors— all the while trying to make sense of what just happened with my life. At times I wanted to quit, even at the beginning of my college career my freshmen year, but I knew education would be my opportunity out of this precarious situation.
According to the William’s Institute at UCLA, forty-percent of homeless youth in this country identify as LGBT. Coming out can be dangerous to many of us, which is why I fully support the decision for youth to come out when they feel ready. Working in the TLP program taught me that we must make changes to this system in order to allow our youth to succeed. I was very fortunate that I was in this high school program, called AVID, which helped me become a strong candidate to enroll in UC Riverside where I would later transfer to UC Berkeley—the university was my transitional living program. I was given a path to take—a path that not many LGBT youth of color are given if they are not set up for success from the get-go. More policies and programs, such as the TLP, Jovenes Inc in Boyle Heights, My Friend’s Place in Hollywood, must be implemented in order to see LGBTQ youth succeed.
I will say this: the Los Angeles LGBT Center is notorious for helping people of color, but lags in allowing people of color to earn leadership roles in the organization; the leaders, many of the people in charge, are predominately white. This is precisely why the youth I worked with—femme, trans, of color—were longing to read Janet Mock’s memoir; they were looking for someone to identify with for inspiration.
There are many factors to keep in mind in order to advocate for youth (e.g. PTSD, substance usage, survival sex, and institutional racism); however, the end goal is not a hopeless one. These youth are the next leaders and their story will create a positive impact on the lives of others.
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