Nurturing the next generation of leaders in the LGBTQ community is important to achieving and sustaining LGBTQ equality. Recently, Pride Foundation supported three young activists in building their leadership skills. Guest writer Mia Giardina shares their journey.
I coordinate a program for queer homeless youth, QueerZone, which is a program of Outside In. Pride Foundation recently sponsored a trip for me and three youth to Seattle’s annual transgender activist conference, Gender Odyssey. Jake, Jackson, and Kat are three amazing, inspiring youth who attended the conference with me and who are already giving back to low-income trans youth—even while working towards meeting their own basic needs. As we waited for the bus to Seattle at six in the morning, coffee in hand and clothing for three days packed tightly in backpacks, we laughed nervously at what it would feel like to be surrounded by trans people in a few hours.
Jackson, 24, co-founded Gender Machine, a QueerZone group for trans and gender nonconforming youth. He noticed, when first beginning to receive services in the Homeless Youth Continuum (HYC), that there was no group specifically for homeless trans youth. All three youth developed a Trans 101 training to help employees in HYC to provide culturally competent care to trans homeless youth. The training, specifically tailored to social workers and those who work with low-income trans people, was designed to ensure homeless trans youth receive more sensitive care and support.
As their mentor, I’ve been blown away by their tremendous work and dedication to creating change for low-income and homeless trans communities. In addition to the Trans 101 training, they led workshops for trans youth at the Oregon Queer Youth Summit. Recently Jake, Jackson, and Kat also spoke on a panel at the Basic Rights Oregon Trans Health Conference and took part in many other community education and engagement activities.
This trip to Seattle was an enormously educative experience, and truly created a sense of community and connection to a larger struggle for change and justice. As we sat around a table in our hostel on the first night of the conference, Kat turned to all of us and said “I won’t ever forget this trip. This is going to be my high moment for months.” The next day, we went to a spoken word performance by the Athens Boys Choir and Jake, Jackson, and Kat were able to meet Harvey Katz, a trans spoken word artist and hip hop performer. After leaving the event, Jake said “I’m just feeling how great it is to actually go out and do stuff, and be alive.
I asked the Gender Machine participants to write a little about what this trip meant to them. I will leave you with their words!
“I was one of the three people selected to go to Gender Odyssey on a grant. I am a homeless trans youth, who is currently living in transitional housing. This experience of attending Gender Odyssey was wonderful, and I could not decide which workshop I enjoyed more. I know that I would love another opportunity to attend Gender Odyssey and a chance for future trans youth to attend and find a sense of community and those that share similar experiences.” –Jake
“I am a homeless trans girl. It was amazing to be able to go to Gender Odyssey and see so many trans activists. Thank you Pride Foundation for allowing me to go!” –Kat
Mia Giardina is the coordinator of QueerZone, a program for LGBTQ homeless youth in Portland, Oregon. Mia is a genderqueer New Yorker who strives to create a program which empowers disenfranchised youth to be leaders in social justice movements, to speak for themselves and their own experiences and creates space for LGBTQ community fun!
Jett Johnson is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Oregon. Email Jett.