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June 25, 2020

Pride Month: Supporting Our Youth and Staff with Love and Affirmation

Our Friend Joe tells how Friends of the Children–Portland supports our LGBTQ+ youth and staff during Pride Month and always.

By Joe, Friend

It often takes an entire village to raise a young person. At Friends of the Children–Portland, we also recognize that many young people in their community struggle to be their authentic selves with their village because of fear that they will not be accepted. This is something that I understand first hand, and I am proud to work as a Professional Mentor for Friends of the Children and for the opportunity to support youth by giving them perspectives, opportunities, and relationships that I wish I had as a young person. During the month of June, we join thousands of organizations in amplifying and celebrating the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community not only at Friends of the Children–Portland but in our nation and world.

In my experience, the tragedy and the joy of being an LGBTQ+ person is the excavation. No one that I know, including myself, will ever know who I would have been had the world been safer, but through this excavation, I am able to learn, grow and reveal parts of myself that I hid from the world or thought I’d lost. It is critical that young people have access to positive messages that affirm their identities because, as time goes on, our world often throws bigger and heavier loads of dirt and debris to obscure them. When we support them, they can first and foremost start a relationship with themselves, and it is my hope that this will be the most important, loving, and affirming relationship of their lives. When we love ourselves, we can give others permission to love us too, and by extension, we can start to truly see and love them back.

However, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that there are youth in this program and folks in this world that have far greater barriers to overcome to accept themselves for who they are. Trans and gender-nonconforming people often must constantly navigate safety and survival when they are expressing themselves and their pride. This reality is further informed and potentially made even harder through the intersections of race, class, ability, language or nation of origin. Something that we can do to support them is to give them love and affirmation for sharing these truths as soon as they are able. This is something I have enjoyed about my experience as a staff member at Friends of the Children–Portland. We have youth in every age, background, identity and area of the city that identify as LGBTQ+, but it is important to note that this does not just represent the community as a whole. We have youth at every level that identifies with trans or gender non-conforming identities, even in our very youngest and newest cohorts. This might seem like a simple support to some, but I hope that your heart is warmed to know that youth are given the opportunity to identify the mentor that most validates and affirms their gender identity. They are given their own choice, and it makes me proud to know that these youth are with mentors that they want to be with every week. It doesn’t mean that these youth won’t struggle when they come out young, but it does mean that they very well might be able to make it through their youth and adolescence with fewer layers of this societal dirt and debris that they would need to excavated later. I dream of and envision a world where this excavation is no longer needed, especially for the most marginalized members of my community. Leadership should always come from the margins because those folks have the perspective of knowing what it means to be unseen. When we are brave, when we act as leaders and allies to support LGBTQ+ people, we provide tools and space for that excavation to begin and it is through that excavation that we can find the joy of being exactly who we were meant to be.

Finally, if you have come out to everyone around you, I am proud of you. If you have come out to those that made you feel safe and supported, I am proud of you. If you have acknowledged who you are to yourself, I am so proud of you. If you are not ready yet to have this conversation know that it will happen in your time, and I am still so proud of you. We are all on a journey, and we are called to witness others as they would like to be seen, lighten the load for each person we can, and hold space for folks that are on their own journey and can’t wait to bask in the sun. We all play a role in making the world better because progress is a series of small, bold moves and we each have a responsibility to play our part.