Community Health Outreach Worker
Lowell High School
Q: In your role as a community health outreach worker, what have you done to create a safer climate for LGBTQ youth and families?
I’ve had the privilege of working with the Gay/Straight Alliance at school, as one of their co-advisors. I can’t take credit for the work, because they do pretty much all of it. Lowell has a really, really active GSA that does a number of events on campus, including a transgender remembrance week for youths that have been on the receiving end of violence. We do a sort of a graveyard and give information to the school about that. We also do a marriage booth on the campus so the students can get married. It’s really fun. They do costumes and they have photos and stuff. It’s very well received at Lowell. And they’re working on trying to get some curriculum to teachers around like Harvey Milk education and just other stuff. We talked a lot about heterosexism this year and how that differs from homophobia. So, we’ve been busy this year.
Q: What is a fun activity you’ve done for LGBT youth?
We went to go see the movie “Milk” at the Castro Theater with the GSA. It was super historic and the kids walked out just feeling so excited and really passionate. I mean it was right around all of the Measure 8 stuff so they were really fired up to do that. So they started working with a petition on Measure 8 after that.
Q: What are some of the challenges or barriers that you’ve encountered to the work?
We had an incident earlier this year involving a skit in front of the whole school. Some older boys mimicked gay people at a club. Some people were really offended by it, others weren’t. And that’s both within and outside the queer community, and it was really difficult to generate a response. How we could not exclude anyone’s feelings, and opinions? In context, it was a very insensitive thing for the queer community. So that was a big challenge. We also had our GSA board on campus that was damaged and then it was ripped down. There are these very harmful acts going on, but I guess the positive side is that they’re almost all underground. The general sense at my school is a positive response, I think. You do still hear a lot of stuff about, “that’s so gay” and things like that going on campus. It could always be better but I think most of the really homophobic acts are not tolerated and they sort of happen underground.
Q: What inspired you to do this work?
There are a lot of ideological reasons I do this work. But maybe that’s what got me interested in it, and I think I keep doing it because it’s fun. Working with youth at the school is fun and it’s a very thankful job. I don’t know, I think some people have the experience that it’s not a thankful job, but I really think it is. So, I feel better doing this job than I’ve ever had doing another job. It’s nice to feel like you’re a support and a connection for a youth who may not have as much as they should.
Q: What has been the school community reaction to the work you’ve done?
Well, it’s hard. There’s a variety of reactions. There are some people that feel like this is not as important as the academic education that should be happening in school. People should be learning math and science and history in school and not this civil liberties or social justice kind of education. And that’s frustrating because I mean when I put myself in a teachers’ shoes that has a long curriculum and not a lot of time I can understand where they’re coming form. I also think that students learn better when they feel safer and when they’re healthier, and when they’re engaged in things that are really applicable to them. There’s a balance to that. On the other side, I think there are a lot of teachers and community members that are really enthusiastic that this work is going on. The Wellness Center where I work, deals a lot with this stuff and it’s been great to have parents call or stop by and say they’re all happy the services are there.