Community organizers and members of the Crossroads Fund, a local nonprofit organization that supports other community organizations working on issues of social and economic justice in the Chicago area, met at a private residence in Lake View April 19 to discuss the needs of LGBTQ youth. The event included Crossroads Fund board members and panelists from the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, Youth Pride Center and Broadway Youth Center.
With much attention as of late focused on the Pride Campus, the proposed public high school catering to Chicago's LGBTQ students, this event was meant to address more immediate business; namely violence.
"Progress for the Pride Campus is still underway, but what we're here to discuss, amongst other things, is how we can create conditions of safety for LGBTQ youth beyond one campus," said Chris Smith, a board member of the Crossroads Fund. "We need to talk about what we can do as activists to support initiatives that aid queer youth."
Forums like this one come at a pressing time, as LGBTQ-related youth violence has seen an increase across the nation, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network ( GLSEN ) . As reported last week in WCT, earlier this month 11-year old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hung himself after being bullied with anti-gay epithets at his Springfield, Mass., school.
A compelling moment was when the panelists honed in on issues of race, class and color affecting LGBTQ young people. "Let's face it: People in low-income communities of color are some of the most disenfranchised members of the LGBTQ community. Kids in those communities are often more isolated when they feel unwanted by their families and peers," said Lisa Alatorre of the Broadway Youth Center.
Shannon Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, added, "In our schools and on the streets, the word 'faggot' is being used as a weapon to humiliate and isolate anyone who is different, not just LGBTQ kids." She paused as the other panelists nodded their heads in affirmation. "You may not participate in it, but if you don't stop it when it happens you create the climate for it [ violence ] to flourish. That is a dangerous climate."
See www.illinoissafeschools.org and www.howardbrown.org for more info on LGBTQ youth resources. For information on the Crossroads Fund, visit www.crossroadsfund.org .