LGBTQ Youth Raise Their Voices to Fight Bias

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photo courtesy of Ruth Ellis Center Detroit

Before passing away in 2000, Ruth Ellis was widely regarded as the world’s oldest out lesbian. A true pioneer, Ellis dedicated herself to making sure other members of the LGBTQ community lived better, safer lives. In 1999, activists in Michigan built the Ruth Ellis Center, a youth services organization for LGBTQ youth in need, in her name.

Fifteen years later, the Center is unfortunately still very much needed. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Brion and her girlfriend Q are just two of the LGBTQ youth who have benefitted from getting involved with the Center.

When Brion was kicked out of her mother’s house after coming out, she moved in with her girlfriend, Q, and her family. When it became clear that they couldn’t support Brion on their limited income, Q’s mother went online and found the Ruth Ellis Center.

Even though they’ve faced bias and discrimination, they’ve found solace in having a place to go where they don’t have to hide their true identities. Good Look Panelist Mark Erwin, who serves as the Director of Community Development at the Ruth Ellis Center, believes one of the biggest benefits of coming to the Center is that “you get to come here and be you, and you’re celebrated in that.”

And that’s not the only benefit. Q said she has “learned more about myself and the LGBTQ community in these past 3 years than all the rest of my life combined.” She also realized how fortunate she was to have “affirming parents,” and it motivated her to “do (her) part and give back.”  

As for other LGBTQ youth who aren’t as fortunate, Q encourages them to “learn and be comfortable” in their skin because “that’s what’s most important.” Brion wants LGBTQ youth who are experiencing discrimination to remember that “there are people out there listening and willing” to accept and help them.

Having been involved with the Ruth Ellis Center for years, Brion and Q were recently invited to perform at the Center’s annual Voices event. Although the event is now over, you can still support the Ruth Ellis Center by sharing or donating to the organization’s RiseDetroit Charity Challenge page on CrowdRise. 

What’s it like to be intersex?

In the ‘Faking It’ season premiere Lauren reveals that she’s intersex, and like most of us watching, Amy immediately asks “soo what does that mean?” To help answer this, our friends at interactyouth connected us to college student, Amanda (who you can follow here), an openly lesbian intersex person who first “came out” at 13 years old. Read on for our interview with Amanda to learn what it’s like and what it means to be intersex. 

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LD: What does it mean to be intersex and how has coming out and identifying as intersex affected you?

AS: "It means that an individual might have differences about their body that makes them neither entirely male nor female – at least by the standards learned in high school biology. 

I’ve been ‘coming out’ to people since I was 13, which is how old I was when I was diagnosed. I remember not wanting to be alone with my diagnosis, with the one thing that made me so different, so I told my best friends. My friends were kind and intelligent girls and I knew, or at least I hoped, that they would understand. Which thankfully they did, and this initial positive interaction laid the foundation to help me accept my condition and cultivate it as a part of my identity. Coming out has helped me not only to be happier with myself but also to see that other people have willing and open minds, and identifying as intersex is simply me being honest with myself and the people in my life, as well as me staying true to the person that I am.”

LD: What are some of the challenges you’ve come across as an intersex person?

AS: "I deal with a few things that most people probably don’t. Some of them become a part of your daily routine, and others you completely forget about until they hit you square in the face. The one that most immediately comes to mind are my healthcare needs, and subsequently my healthcare experiences.

Finding a good doctor can be difficult. While DSDs are something that most physicians learn about in medical school, they are quickly forgotten about later. I have had to educate past doctors about intersex conditions generally, and then about mine specifically. Because of this lack of foreknowledge about intersex conditions, most doctors simply don’t know how to interact with intersex patients or know the best healthcare options for us.

I have also noticed that people can also be a little too nosy about certain personal aspects of my condition. I have had people ask me what my genitalia is like, as though that was really all they were curious about the entire time I was talking to them. Out of all of the questions that could have been asked, this one is perhaps the least relevant and very much beside the point.”

LD: How can we be allies to the intersex community? 

AS: ”I think the first step to being an ally to the intersex community, or any group facing oppression for that matter, is to understand your own privilege. So what, then, is the best way to understand the struggles that the intersex community faces? Simply by listening to our stories. Stories carry power and express the teller’s personal truth, but they are really only effective if someone is willing to listen. Stories are the way we share our experiences, and often times the heartbreaking stories and experiences of many intersex folks go unheard. Listening takes an open mind and a genuine desire to educate oneself about an issue.

Not only is learning about an issue an important step to being a good ally, but so is educating others. It’s important that allies call others out when they say something that’s harmful or insensitive.” 

To see more stories and find out more about the intersex community go to interactyouth.org.