CHATpdx: Gender & Identity

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CHATpdx: Gender & Identity

CHATpdx peer educators dismantle stigma via rad original media projects! 😀

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Being An Ally

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, being an ally is defined as “one that is associated with another as a helper”. The same goes for the New Oxford version “a person or organization that cooperates with or helps another in a particular activity:” Any way you put it, an ally is there to help another person, community and in some instances a country when they need that support. Historically, there were allies assisting to free Africans being enslaved in the United States, America served as an ally to European countries during World War II. And civil right activists were allies to the thousands of African-Americans fighting for civil rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States of America. Most recently, there has been a movement across the country of young people, educators, and parents supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth as allies.

Allies play a vital role in making schools safer for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. In fact, the first Gay-Straight Alliance was the idea of a straight ally. Although this isn’t a “new” movement, recent headlines about anti-LGBTQ bullying have brought to light the importance of allies to the LGBTQ community.

Being an ally means being there for people when the world marginalizes and discriminates against any one. Even today when we see more media representation of LGBTQ individuals, by in large, we still live in a society where to be anything other than heterosexual is not accepted. This is where allies come in! An ally for the LGBTQ community can be anyone, whether they are black, white, old, young, gay, or straight. Allies can be a support for LGBTQ people when they decide to come out to family, friends, community, church, or to anyone else. LGBTQ allies can stand up for LGBTQ youth and pledge: “I believe all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression deserve to feel safe, and supported. I will not use anti-LGBT language or slurs. I will intervene, if I safely can, in situations where students are being harassed, and support efforts to end bullying and harassment.”

Personally, as an ally I have had very rewarding experiences that made me really proud of what I stand for. Those experiences made me realize that the work I do isn’t in vain. In early October, a good friend of mine asked me, “What would you think of me if I told you I was attracted to men?” I told him, “I would think of you the same – who am I to tell you who you care about is wrong?” From then on he told me about his feelings and how he has been holding them in because he doesn’t want to be a part of the stereotype that society has created for gay men. He doesn’t want anyone to look at him differently because of his sexual orientation. We attend a university that is the most diverse in the North Carolina school system, and yet there is stigma around being a gay African-American male.

Being there for him was the best feeling I could have ever felt. After talking to me, he has since made strides in coming out to his peers and wants to tell his mother soon. I remember he told me once “I respect, support, and appreciate straight allies because they are the ones in society that are ‘normal’ in strong support of something that society sees as ‘abnormal.’ You all take the slack for all of that.” Although I let him know that he is in no way abnormal or wrong for his sexual orientation, I appreciated his words. I felt like I had a purpose.

You, too, can be an ally. High school students can join their gay/straight alliance at their schools, or if there isn’t one make an effort to be the founding member. College students can also join an organization that advocates for the issues relevant to LGBTQ youth. Within in that organization, plan a project, pass out flyers, ask questions, and most importantly, BE AVAILABLE! Go out into your communities and tackle the issues that relevant to the people around you. Take notice of abusive language, support your friends and their events. The Gay Lesbian Education Network, Advocates for Youth, and YouthResource are all great resources on how to plan events on campuses and in communities and ways to speak to your peers to ask questions to be a better ally.

I hope that the information that I have provided to you will make you more aware of the people around you and I hope that I have influenced you to stand up for the youth in your communities. Be the change.

As an ally, there will be instances where you will have to direct your peers to resources to deal with their specific situations. To start you off on your journey here are a few resources:

Share your own stories of being an ally. What does it mean to you? How important is it?

-Amara

Save A Life, It May Be Your Own: An NLAAD Blog

By Ariel Cerrud, youth blogger for Amplifyyourvoice.org

On October 15th, the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month, I alongside my many peer activists, educators and friends recognized the National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD).

Organized by the Latino AIDS Commission in 2003, “NLAAD has been established as a national community mobilization and social marketing campaign that unites the Hispanic/Latino community in efforts to raise HIV awareness, promotion of HIV testing, prevention and education; in addition to other critical health issues such as Viral Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Tuberculosis…”

This year’s theme, Save a Life, It May be your Own. Get Tested for HIV, challenges us to educate ourselves about our own status and get tested, recognizing that regular and consistent testing is perhaps the best tool to combat this disease.

Every 9 ½ minutes, a person in these United States is infected with HIV… every 9 ½ minutes! All of us who work in this field recognize that more and more these days, the faces of those infected are that of our people, young Latinos and Latinas like me.

In the shadow of the day to come, I stopped and thought about what got me started in this field and why I continue to do what I do today.

In 2004, I had the privilege of attending the 11th Annual Ryan White National Youth Conference on HIV/AIDS held here in Portland, Oregon. The conference was a gathering of over 600 young activists, educators, students, and health professionals. In essence, RWNYC was a gathering of anyone and everyone who worked around, was interested in, or impacted by the issues of HIV/AIDS in young people.

For me, this was the first time I had ever attended an event of this type. Quite honestly, going to this conference was a bit outside my comfort zone! I don’t recall if it being my first time was what made me nervous or whether simply because I went to it alone, at the last minute request of a mentor. What I do remember, quite vividly, was sitting in the opening session of the conference, meeting and talking with a young man who was in attendance.

This young man was so charming with quite the lively personality. He was Latino, he spoke Spanish and he was young so we pretty much hit it off during that entire session. I remember conversing with him during the whole hour long plenary. He made it, being there…comfortable, he made it…relatable to me.

Towards the end of the plenary, there came a point where folks had a chance to introduce themselves and share a bit about his story. This young man got up and shared a bit about himself.

To this day, I honestly don’t remember what his name was or any other details about him for that matter. All I remember was one thing; him getting up to that microphone and saying four simple words: “I am HIV positive.”

For a young closeted boy like me who grew up in a small suburban neighborhood of Portland, HIV/AIDS was probably one of the last things on my mind. Looking back at it, this young guy, a guy I simply talked to for an hour at an opening plenary of a conference, probably changed all that!

Attending the RWNYC and meeting that young guy represented a fundamental shift for me personally. Attending that conference was the hook that started my work as a peer educator and activist in the field of HIV/AIDS. Getting to spend those days there made me realize just how prevalent HIV/AIDS is, how impactful it is on communities I am a part of: my Latino community, my young people community, my LGBTQ community just to name a few.  The conference got me to see and understand the many issues and problems that impact those affected by this disease including stigma, misinformation and fear.

More importantly though, getting to meet this young man who in many ways was just like me, was life changing. In many ways I saw myself in him. We match every perceivable demographic yet our lives were very different in one way: our statuses .  Getting to meet him and know him humanized HIV/AIDS. Getting to hear his story and know who he was allowed me to see how real and significant HIV/AIDS is in our community and in our lives.

It has been six years since I attended that conference and in a way I am saddened to see these numbers of infections and the number of folks affected by this illness continue to rise. More worrisome is the notion that within our communities this illness is still not talked about nor understood. I am very lucky to be afforded the opportunity to travel around the country and speak about this very illness and the faces of those in the forefront of this battle give me inspiration to continue.

Young, powerful activists of color are leading the fight for education and understanding of HIV.  Young people are leading the battle by speaking out in their communities, encouraging others, and forging allies all in the goal of ending this struggle. Adolescents with HIV/AIDS, Allied Advocates, HIV/AIDS Activism, Prevention and Support; all of these things are on the rise and are tools in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

The National Latino AIDS Awareness day  is designed to shed light into these issues and so many more. NLAAD is designed to be the spark for someone else like me, as a young boy, to get involved in this struggle and finally bring it to an end. So, with that said, every October 15 (and every day for that matter), take a moment or two  and share this message with someone you care about. Take a moment or two and talk about HIV/AIDS, educate, inform, and pass the message along!

-Ariel