Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gente, Our Youth Are Dying!

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I've been devastated by the number of our youth of Color who have been murdered and who have committed suicide in the past month. You haven't heard of 18 year-old Angie Zapata, 11 year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, or 11 year-old Jaheem Herrera? The lack of media attention to our three youth infuriates me on numerous levels. I've heard too many stores on murdered race horses and a suicide by a big CEO, but nothing about our youth.

Images of Angie Zapata, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, and Jaheem Herrera have stayed with me for the past several weeks (Jaheem recently committed suicide). All three young people were harassed in school and heard anti-gay and anti-trans comments with limited to no teacher intervention/support. Carl and Jaheem, both 11 years-old, did not identify as gay or any other sexual orientation outside of heterosexual, yet the harassment they endured at school lead them both to hang themselves. They did not know one another, they lived in separate states, yet they were targeted and used the same mode of suicide. Angie was brutally murdered last July 2008 by a potential partner who beat her until she was dead because he questioned her biological sex, gender identity, and expression. He has been convicted of murder on all counts.

Transphobia and homophobia killed our youth. It is killing our youth. So why are we not talking about it? Why are we still not questioning what is going on? Maegan la Mamita Mala Oritz from asks why Latino media has done less than exceptional on addressing the murder of Angie Zapata. Seriously, why is the murder of a member of our community not enough to report on?

Activists like myself, and others are asking for ways to cope, heal, create, and mobilize around these deaths. I'm not a parent, and I don't plan to be, but that does not mean I think children should be abused, neglected, ignored, or expected anything less than reaching their full potential. I've worked with youth for 15 years and I'm committed to a positive youth development philosophy. As a result I can offer some suggestions for families and activists.

1. Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has chapters all over the United States. They have been following the hangings of Jaheem and Carl. The Colorado chapter, the state where Angie Zapata was murdered, has a great guide with suggestions for how to build a Gay-Straight Alliance, but also activities to promote discussion that you can do with youth in your home or classroom or community. Most of their literature is FREE.

2. Safe School Coalition offers a roundup of all the resources, posters, stickers, language available for free or for a small fee (less than $10) depending on what you are looking for when you click on the source. One of my personal favorites is this poster by the Wildflower Resource Network:

3. Talking With Kids/Habla Con Sus Hijos provides resources for parents, families, mentors, caregivers, foster parents, and other adults in a young person's life on topics from HIV/AIDS to violence to drug and alcohol use and abuse. Tienen informacion en espaƱol.

4. Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian And Gays (PFLAG) provides support services as well as advocacy for people who care for or have a LGBTQ person in their life. This is such an important organization because if you do not know what to do when someone in your life comes "out" to you as LGBTQ, you are not alone. It may have been a process for the LGBTQ person in your life to get to a point where they wanted to "come out" and it may be a process for those of you who also are trying to learn and cope in ways that does not isolate the LGBTQ person in your life. They have chapters all over the US.

5. Know that you are not alone. If you are an activist, educator, young person, whoever you are, there are many of us mourning the deaths and trying to find ways to continue to do the work we do. If you cannot find a tangible space in your community, we are here. There are spaces online and activists online writing about these topics. Find us, reach out, write, cry, talk, dance, meditate, create, do whatever you need to do, but know you are not alone!

Paz, Luz y Amor

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