Changing the World Begins *here*

There is a lot I’d like to change about the world, a lot that frustrates me, plenty that makes me grieve for my fellow earthlings.  It’s easy to lay blame, to say ‘someone oughta do something!’, and I’m certainly guilty of taking that easy road at times. When I calm down and return to breathing normally, however, I realize that the only way to change the world is to make change.  And for most of us, who don’t have national or global power at our fingertips, the place to make change is right here, where we live.

Roxy hinted at ‘good works’ I was doing in a recent post.  I guess one of the things she’s talking about is the work I do with GLBTQQIAA youth.  I am one of a group of very dedicated and amazing volunteers from an organization that provides discussion and support for high school students who are GLBTQQIA and their allies for lunch, once a week during the school year.  Each participating school gets two trained facilitators who bring pizza and resources.  They provide support and meeting space.  As an organization, we’re having continued success this year, adding two new schools starting this month.  We now have a presence in all three major school districts in the area, for a total of 6 programs.  We are only limited by available facilitators and money for pizzas.

Facilitators (I’m one of these) participate in an ongoing training/learning process on topics like conflict resolution, gender identity, suicide prevention, privilege/oppression, legal reporting responsibilities, local resources for abused/ homeless/emancipated and otherwise challenged youth and more.  We meet with the larger organization once every 6 weeks and at the same pace, on different nights, at a meeting for just the facilitators:  swapping stories, giving support, celebrating successes.  So if you wonder how I spend some of my time (when I’m not blogging or parenting or working for a living or playing with Roxy), this is part of the answer.  Every Thursday during the school year, I’m spending about 2 hours at my alma-mater, working with my co-facilitator and the staff and faculty of the high school to provide a safe space for GLBTQQIA kids and their friends to talk, get support, learn more about queer issues and politics, learn more about then they’ll ever learn in a classroom and have a chance to hang with two healthy, happy queer adults.

Sometimes my co-facilitator and I will come with a game plan of sorts — a topic to discuss, or a training program of some kind — but we’ve only got about 20 minutes per lunch, and that usually includes a round of checkins from everyone.  Some days we just hang and follow whatever topic comes up, sometimes we play a group game or do some art therapy activity.  We’re always looking for ways to engage them and also mindful of sometimes dropping everything to give space for the events of their lives.  The two hours we’re at school cover two lunches, and two very different groups of kids.  Lots of times, what happens in one lunch in terms of discussions and activities, is very different from what happens in the second lunch.   We work very hard to be flexible and responsive to what they want and need.  It’s all about giving them space and access to resources.

Lately, our kids have been going through a lot of big ups and downs (and everything in between, it comes with the territory).  On Christmas Day, a former student of the high school, someone known by a few members of our group, committed suicide.  We didn’t know how much time they’d need to talk about him and their feelings and reactions, but we knew we’d give them all the time they wanted.  We also know, based on a survey they filled out earlier this year, that a lot of them have harmed themselves physically (on purpose) and/or attempted suicide.  We have facilitator binders with all kinds of information, including local and national suicide hotlines and related resources.  We also know that sometimes the very best thing we can do is be present, make space and listen.  And that’s what we did.  So far they’re all doing pretty well.

On the up side, we’re getting some really positive declarations of identity and some really bold actions.  At our last meeting, one girl in first lunch came into the room practically floating, she was bubbling over with excitement and happiness.  This is the same girl who’s had a very hard time with her parents, who still don’t accept that she’s a lesbian.  She’s a brave one though, continuing to challenge them to accept her and allow her to participate in activities (like Gay Pride) that relate to her identity.  On this particular day, she was eager to share her highs and lows.  The high was that another girl had asked her out to the Sadie Hawkins dance.  The low was that her dad was a bit freaked about her going alone with another girl and said they had to go as a group (ok, so the friends are supposed to chaperone, Dad, is that what  you’re hoping for?).  We were all very excited and happy for her.

In second lunch, another girl was similarly bubbling over with eagerness to share her high of the week:  she was the one who’d asked the first girl to the dance.  Do you guys have an idea how huge this is?  Maybe not, since girls asking girls and boys asking boys to dances is in the news occasionally.  It’s still a big deal, and very transgressive.  The school I graduated from was, and is still, a pretty conservative place as a whole.  We’re chipping away at it, but the area it draws from has a lot of rural and conservative influence.  I’m really proud of both of them for taking such a bold step.

Another second lunch girl told us that she was going to check out Stonewall Youth, our regional GLBTQQIAA youth group.  They meet downtown and have drop in hours and social events.  It was another bold move and I’m really excited for her.  Still another boy, a couple of weeks ago, announced that he was joining the GSA as an ally.  He confessed he’d been thinking about it for a while but had felt too nervous, shy and intimidated to check it out.  Another proud moment for him and us.

I can’t say we were the cause of all this boldness and bravery, but I know we had an important part to play.  We offer a non-judgmental supportive environment for them to explore their identity, to discover a new culture and a previously unknown history and contemporary political and cultural landscape.  We give them a safe space to wish for better, to plan for better and to celebrate when their plans succeed.  We give them support and encouragement when they fall short of their goals, or hit walls of bigotry and ignorance.   Some weeks we just shoot the shit and hang out, some weeks there’s tons going on in all aspects of their lives and the time goes so quickly.  That’s a major frustration for all of us who facilitate these groups, that we wish we had more time each week.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be talking about gender identity (and the myriad differences between gender and sex and sexual preference and presentation, etc.), and we’ll have 3 sessions on causes of and ways to prevent sexual violence, we’ll talk about privilege and oppression and have guest speakers.  And before we know it, it will be June and seniors will be graduating and we’ll be sad to see them go, but proud and happy for the time we spent with them.

It’s MLK Day, the day we celebrate the birth and the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr.  His life and example are inspiring, and a lot of people see this holiday (and day off work for some) as a time to consider how each of us can serve our society and our fellow citizens, and our world.  I encourage each of you to find something that inspires your passion and allows you to effect positive change.  I prefer the local and direct approach, contributing my time and effort to organizations who’s missions I want to support and see succeed.  Some of you are already doing that, and I thank you as a fellow earthling.  I think each of us can do something, something more direct than sending money to a far off address.  I challenge you to find something this year, to take something on and make it your cause.

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