By far my favorite plenary at Creating Change so far, the Youth of Color Panel featured young leaders speaking to the priorities of the communities they represent. Kai Wright did an excellent job giving these folks space to share perspectives that are outside the mainstream of the LGBT movement. They articulated a vision that moves beyond marriage to the issues that actually impact their lives. Some highlights from the panel, which had the crowd whipped up like no other large session, after the jump.
The speakers and their organizations:
Juan Gabriel Padilla – Texas GSA Network, Austin
Cynthia Ruiz – Youth First Texas
Dashaun Williams – Vogue Evolution, NYC-based organizations
Charlotte Park – BAGLY
Jesus Motelongo – Youth First Texas
Ash Hammond – FIERCE
Rudy “Elegost” Rosado – FIERCE
Gabriel – Although we all self-identify as queer people of color we are in no way representatives of all queer people of color.
Ash – The very basic services that we rely on for our community are being cut. We sent out a survey that was released in the Summer of 2009. Problems such as homelessness, increasing HIV infection rates were actually increasing for youth across the country, it wasn’t just New York.
Elegost – The youth felt their issues weren’t being spoken about, they were going under the radar.
Ash – Recommendations: We need to really teach organizing skills so LGBT youth of color can organize themselves and address these issues.
Elegost – We need more organizing spaces more often.
Ash – We want to see more prioritizing of a youth-led LGBT agenda. And we want to shift the priorities of our agenda – so access to housing would be a big one, prevention of violence would be another one, and access to public spaces. We’re the people affected by these issues so we’re the people that develop the solutions.
Gabriel – The problems we find affecting folks mostly were things like homelessness… not Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and marriage.
Kai – What were the priorities?
Elegost – Anti-trans and gender non-conforming violence were big ones. Homelessness, and HIV/AIDS.
Charlotte – [During marriage organizing in MA] The youth saw a loss of funding. The mainstream movement was willing to use our bodies, like in canvassing, but we weren’t getting supported back.
Gabriel also spoke against the prioritizing of hate crime legislation, and especially paying attention to queer and trans youth of color who are disproportionately targeted by violence.
Dashaun and Ash spoke about the house and ballroom scene in New York creating family and community spaces for queer youth of color.
Jesus – [Regarding homeless youth] We don’t just offer housing, we also offer counseling, trans youth support.
Cynthia – Personally as GLBT youth I think we should focus on immigration. Because I was raised by my grandparents who emigrated from Mexico.
Gabriel – Growing up I was not only marginalized for being pansexual-identified, but for being a person of color and an immigrant. We sometimes dismiss the fact that we have people in the community who are immigrants. Groups in Austin aren’t coming together on intersecting issues. I have to switch identities when I go to different organizations.
Charlotte – We have adult advisors and they’re just there, they don’t try to take a part, and we can go to them for support. And they check in with us in a way that doesn’t seem overbearing, it’s very caring. And part of that is that we’re given the space to engage with them when we want to, it’s not pushed on us. They give us the space to create the framework we function in.
Cynthia – I’ve noticed that some organizations only serve adults, and some only serve youth. we need some that intersect the two.
Ash – I think what it looks like when it’s not working is an organization that claims to be youth organizing, but youth are there as the face of the organization but adults are really doing the work and making the decisions.
Dashaun – Adults aren’t always open to accepting that there are different generations, and things shift.
Gabriel – Empowering youth is saying: we trust your voice, we trust your decisions, we’re behind you, and we’re going to give you the space and those resources to address these problems.
Ash – I think we could do a better job of doing intergenerational work. If you look at the things are movements are known for, they’re known for certain things that affect certain age groups. And we need to not only prioritize youth becoming leaders and speaking for our issues, because our issues are real and serious, but we also need to prioritize the issues of elders in our movement.
Kai asked about where we’re going to be in the next 10 years.
Jesus – I think in my community we’re already taking the steps to work with different generations, cultures, and communities. I think in ten years I see us becoming stronger as a community and becoming more inclusive.
Gabriel – Radical queers are gonna fuck shit up!
Charlotte – We’re not using a common accessible language. Organizations need to realize that marriage doesn’t help queer youth. What do you do [before marriage]? You’re young and you want to have fun and you can’t do that if you’re disenfranchised and homeless.
Ash – In 10 years when I’m sitting in a room of LGBT youth leaders I hope they’re speaking about nothing that I’m speaking about today.