Andrew Barnett was struck by the young people involved with SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders) when he returned to D.C. after college in Washington state and got involved.
“I was just really drawn to the mission of the organization and also just found it incredible to work with LGBT young people,” he says. “I had really just come out two years before and was really inspired by the work and to see so many young people in their teens and in high school who were out and confident in a way that wasn’t easy for a lot of them. That’s what really made me feel this was the place for me.”
Barnett has been on staff there (smyal.org) for eight years and has been the organization’s executive director for four years. Next weekend the organization is bringing together 30 youth (ages 15-18) from around the region to a summer camp event in Chevy Chase, Md., where they’ll be trained on LGBT activism and advocacy.
Barnett, 30, grew up in Alexandria, Va. He and his boyfriend of a year, Anthony Cotton, live together in Logan Circle. Barnett enjoys reading comic books and vegan cooking in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I will have been out for 10 years this October, and the hardest person to tell was probably my mother. However, when I did, she could not have been more accepting and loving, so it turned out to be a very nice conversation.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
There are so many! The first person who comes to mind for me is James Baldwin, the author of “Another Country,” “Giovanni’s Room” and many more great novels and essays.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
One of my favorite places to visit at night in D.C. is the National Mall: I love seeing the monuments and the Capitol building all lit up. In terms of more traditional “nightspots,” I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Apex, which was my first gay club.
Describe your dream wedding.
Being surrounded by the people I love and marrying the guy of my dreams.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Is any issue really a non-LGBT issue? I don’t know of any that don’t impact LGBT people. I am very passionate about issues related to economic justice and access to education and opportunity, which of course impact LGBT and non-LGBT people.
What historical outcome would you change?
I’ve seen way too many science fiction movies to try to change a historical outcome. It never works out the way you want.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Ellen coming out of the closet was a very memorable moment for me. She deserves a lot of credit for being one of the first.
On what do you insist?
I insist on honesty, integrity and self-awareness — those values are a very big part of my personal ethic and how I strive to live my life.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Something trivial about the Metro being too hot, I think. I don’t do a whole lot of posting to social media.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
Something thought-provoking and inspirational, I hope.
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
For myself, I would do nothing. I also think people are created LGBT for a reason and I don’t think it’s up to humans to change that for themselves or others. So, I would also join whatever movement would be organized to oppose the use of the process.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I think we are a part of something bigger than what we can directly perceive.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Listen to youth! I think the LGBT movement needs to do more to incorporate youth voices and concerns in an authentic way.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
Causes that I believe in and people that I care about.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
All stereotypes are harmful, but the ones that particularly bother me are the ones that are perpetuated about trans people. It also really gets under my skin when I hear them being perpetuated by gay and lesbian people.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Harold and Maude.” The movie may not have any openly LGBT characters in it, but it was written by Colin Higgins and it definitely has a queer sensibility.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Heteronormative and sexist social customs tend to get on my nerves.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
There are many awards that I would be very honored to win but none that I would say I covet.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
While I wish I had known many things at 18, I also know that I had to learn the lessons of life at the times that I did. I suppose I wish I had known that everything turns out all right if you just have faith.
Washington is where I was born and where I have always felt at home. So much happens here and so many communities make their home here. It’s a great place to live.