September 25, 2013 | by Lori Barrientos Sanchez
My generation working to end discrimination
SMYAL, Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, gay news, Washington Blade

Today, the LGBTQ community is making great strides in the United States and nations across the globe. (Photo courtesy of SMYAL)

The weekend before school started for me and other Prince George’s County students, I wasn’t at the mall buying last-minute school supplies or hitting the pool with friends. Instead, I was surrounded by a multitude of fellow high school youth activists at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase. The Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL) organization hosted a camp that focused on high school Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs), which are school clubs that help provide a safe environment and ensure equal rights for students. I woke up that Friday morning skeptical as to why I was willing to get up at 5:30 in the morning to get ready and Metro to the SMYAL center in Washington, D.C. Before the end of the night, I knew why.

The camp was a diverse group of us who were not only seeking to improve or start our own GSAs but to beat oppression and inequality in our communities. I learned so much from the workshops themselves, which were led by amazing leaders from D.C. and California. The real treasure, however, was meeting so many amazing people at the camp. These are students from all over the DMV area, in both public and private schools. And all of them are looking to make a difference.

Today, the LGBTQ community is making great strides in the United States and nations across the globe. However, we are not on the same level as our fellow cisgender heterosexual counterparts. In the state of Maryland, my home state, discrimination based on gender identity is legal in 20 out of 24 counties. Virginia does not protect its citizens against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and the legal definition of marriage is a union between a man and a woman. I could go on with other human rights infractions in this nation, but there isn’t enough space in this column for that.

We still face hardships. We still face discrimination. We still face oppression.

But this camp has given me even more hope that my generation will seek to end it on a scale that could rival the sweeping change we’ve seen in the last decade.

Someday, it will no longer be the politically correct option to have a token gay couple on a primetime television series or to educate audiences about the plight of the LGBTQ community. Instead, there will only be couples that you’ll be making faces at because they’re obviously incompatible, or rooting for them because they’re just meant to be together. The plight of the LGBTQ community will become something our children and their children will be taught, similar to how a student in Prince George’s County today will learn about the civil rights movement in their freshman year United States history class.

SMYAL’s GSA activist camp made one thing very clear to me: One day, I will have the same rights as anyone walking down Pennsylvania Avenue. And so will you.

 

Want to share your views and experiences as an LGBTQ or ally youth in today’s world?  Submit your ideas for an article to youthvoices@smyal.org or to Blade editor Kevin Naff at knaff@washblade.com.

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