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Trans non-binary visual artist & writer féi hernandez awarded grant

Define American, a culture change organization announced the winners of its 2021 Creative Fellowship project grant

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fei.hernandez via Instagram

LOS ANGELES – An Inglewood raised immigrant trans non-binary visual artist, writer, and healer has been awarded a $5,000 grant to write and illustrate the first volume of a three-part children’s book series.

Los Angeles-based féi hernandez will write and illustrate Heart of a Moth (Corazón de una Mariposa Nocturna), the first volume in the three-part children’s book series. The story will center Iká, a mixed-race differently abled queer young spirit warrior, that protects their hood from shadow beasts bred from corrupted hearts.

The Books are anticipated to be distributed in multi-accessible formats including: audio books, Braille format, and plushies for kinesthetic readers to enrich a new generation of differently abled, queer and trans, Black, Indigenous, youth of color to embrace what makes them powerful.

Define American, a culture change organization that uses the power of narrative to humanize conversations about immigrants, announced the winners of its 2021 Creative Fellowship project grant.

The organization’s Creative Fellowship, which awards a $5,000 grant to each recipient, is one of the few U.S. artistic fellowship opportunities that welcomes applicants regardless of immigration status, including undocumented creatives.

The other awardee is New York-based filmmaker Ash Goh Hua who will produce an abolitionist political cultural event around political prisoner liberation, focusing on the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Free Mumia.

Free Them All! will screen two short films, I’m Free Now, You Are Free and By Your Side; feature a panel conversation between the filmmakers, Ash Goh Hua, Mike Africa Sr and Debbie Africa and cultural worker Kazembe Balagun, and host a teach-in by Campaign organizer Johanna Fernández.

Abolition is a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment. By engaging the issue through art and films, it allows a story/narrative shift that moves people emotionally into the humanistic, cultural dimension of this struggle, which is crucial in political organizing, and thus will bring people closer to the issue at hand.

Past winners of Define American Creative Fellowship include Danyeli Rodriguez Del Orbe (2020), a community organizer with UndocuBlack, spoken word poet, and writer who is based in Los Angeles and New Orleans art duo Karla Rosas and Fernando Lopez (2019).

The Define American Creative Fellowship supports immigrant creatives working in narrative art forms as they build their professional practice and network. Recognizing the unique hurdles that immigrant creatives in these fields may face, the fellows selected for the Define American Creative Fellowship participate in workshops and conversations geared towards furthering their network and impact, connecting with additional resources, and supporting their community engagement efforts.

The Define American Creative Fellowship has been supported by the Kresge Foundation. This year,  the CAA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of talent and sports agency Creative Artists Agency, also joined as a supporting partner as part of its Full Story Initiative efforts.

“At least 95% of artists have lost income due to COVID-19. Additionally, the immigrant community in the U.S. has been largely overlooked by pandemic aid and stimulus checks,” said Define American Founder Jose Antonio Vargas. “Many immigrant artists pursuing a creative career now find themselves in an untenable situation. Their perspective and creative practice are more important than ever as we work to ensure our culture truly reflects the diversity of our country. As the creative community rebuilds post-pandemic, we want to make sure immigrant creatives have a prominent role in that conversation.”

“The CAA Foundation is honored to include Define American as partners in the Full Story Initiative, and to support their Creative Fellowship,” said CAA Foundation Executive, Maddy Roth. “The fellowship embodies our mission of driving forward authentic narratives in television and film for a more equitable future. We are thrilled to help support these brilliant storytellers in their creative journeys.”

The Define American Creative Fellowship is open to creatives in narrative-oriented art forms (writing, filmmaking, visual storytelling, theater, illustration, spoken word, digital journalism, etc.) with at least some experience (professional or amateur) in their chosen medium. This program is uniquely suited to supporting artists who have a deep commitment to their local communities and further developing their creative practice as they shape narratives of American identity.

“Artists and culture bearers are playing profound roles in their communities each and every day,” said Seth D. Beattie, Program Officer, Arts & Culture for The Kresge Foundation. “Despite enormous financial challenges, they’re helping communities process grief, raise the visibility of resources and build a sense of community even when socially distant. Define American is helping to lift up and support that work by actively challenging structural biases that impede the community efforts of immigrant artists, including the extensive discrimination facing artists living without documentation.”

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Incoming HRC President Robinson warns: ‘They are coming for us’

“They are launching an intersectional attack against us and trying to divide our power and we are going to fight back together”

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Incoming HRC President Kelley Robinson in her office on Nov. 10, 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Kelley Robinson convened a press briefing on Monday with representatives from local and national LGBTQ advocacy groups and gun violence prevention organizations to discuss the deadly shooting over the weekend at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.

“We are, of course, having this call under the worst of circumstances,” Robinson said, expressing her heartbreak and outrage in personal terms “as a wife, a mother, and a member of the LGBTQ community.”

Around the same time, news outlets reported that hate crime charges were filed against the suspected gunman who killed five people and injured at least 19 others when he opened fire with an assault style rifle in Club Q late Saturday night.

Just a couple of weeks ago, when Robinson sat down for an interview with the Washington Blade, she was smiling for much of the conversation. For one thing, she was looking forward to the official start of her tenure as president of the Human Rights Campaign . On Nov. 28, she will become the first Black queer woman to serve in that role leading the nation’s largest LGBTQ organization.

The interview also came on the heels of a midterm election cycle that had seen record turnout among LGBTQ voters and historic firsts for LGBTQ candidates. Additionally, by then it had become clear that by the year’s end Congress would likely pass the landmark Respect for Marriage Act, which carries significant legal protections for same-sex couples.  

Tone and tenor aside, however, there was little daylight between Robinson’s words and actions following the mass shooting and her comments during that Nov. 10 interview, during which she pledged to lead HRC with an intersectional approach to the work, in a manner consistent with her prior leadership as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and professional background as a community organizer.

On Monday, Robinson – along with the other speakers – urged collective, decisive action to stem the escalating tides of hateful rhetoric, online misinformation and disinformation, and violence and threats of violence directed at LGBTQ people. They focused their comments on how these factors work together to raise the likelihood of violent attacks like that which happened on Saturday.

Likewise, they said solutions must involve a diverse array of stakeholders: lawmakers and social media companies tasked with fighting online hate, misinformation, and disinformation; law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing existing gun laws; and groups representing vulnerable communities that are disproportionately impacted, like trans women of color and LGBTQ youth.

“What we saw this past year is that our opposition gets intersectionality,” Robinson told the Blade. “They are coming for us, for all of us,” she said, citing as examples the Supreme Court’s decision revoking Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, the hateful rhetoric of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and recent spate of statewide anti-LGBTQ bills.

“They are launching an intersectional attack against us and trying to divide our power,” she said. “And we are going to fight back together, because ultimately we are stronger together.”

From her vantage point as a queer Black woman, Robinson said intersectionality is not just a theory relegated to academia but rather a fact of life. It also happens to also be exceptionally effective in engendering concrete change through movement building and coalition building, she said.  

For these reasons, Robinson said HRC is focused on political advocacy at the federal, state, local, and grassroots levels. And the organization is expanding its programs in other areas that are designed to, for example, make schools more welcoming environments for LGBTQ youth, empower trans people in the workplace, and hold employers as well as municipalities to account for their policies concerning treatment of, respectively, LGBTQ employees, residents, and visitors.

Likewise, with respect to the organization’s impact litigation work, intersectionality is front and center, Robinson said. HRC’s attorneys are working with other legal actors and entities in the movement ecosystem on cases involving everything from protecting the rights of the incarcerated to fighting back against anti-LGBTQ state laws, she said.

Still, Robinson said she is realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. Asked what keeps her up at night, she said it’s how high the stakes are: “This is truly a matter of life and death for so many people,” she said.

“People are hurting right now. We may be in a different phase of the pandemic, but it’s not over for people. The impact that it’s had for people’s work lives, the impact it’s had for our mental health, all of that lingers and is present…I can’t tell you the number of people that have come up to me in tears about their kids, worrying about their kids, worrying about their trans kids who are getting kicked out of sports and told they’re different when they’re five, six, seven, eight years old. They’re worried about their gay kids and if they’ll be able to love the people that they choose to love and still live in the states that they call home.”

HRC President Kelley Robinson takes the stage at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner on Oct. 29. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However, Robinson said, “there’s a unique opportunity for us to do something about it right now. We’ve built the political power. We have the organization. We’re so close to having the political leadership that we need in office to get some stuff done. So, this is one of those moments where it just feels like there’s so much on the line, there’s such a sense of urgency. But the hope and optimism is coming from the fact that we’re not done.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously proclaimed that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” but “that doesn’t happen by accident,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to pull it and push it and prod it, and I’m proud to be part of that struggle and that legacy fighting for freedom; fighting for change.”

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26k trans & nonbinary students filled out largest college app in U.S.

Common App plans to add “X” or “another legal sex” as an option, in addition to “female” and “male” for the 2023-2024 application season

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Using the largest body of data on the gender identities of incoming college students ever available, a report released Thursday found over 26,000 transgender and nonbinary people filled out the Common App – the largest college application in the country. 

The Campus Pride report – “The Changing Nature of Gender in the 21st Century: How Trans and Nonbinary Students Applying to College Today Self-Identify” found that of the more than 1.22 million students who filled out the Common App for the fall 2022 semester, 26,366 identified as transgender or nonbinary, or 2.2% of applicants.  

The report comes after the Common App added optional questions on gender and pronouns for the 2022-2023 application season. For gender, applicants could choose “female,” “male,” “nonbinary” or “another gender.” Pronoun options included: “he/him,” “she/her,” “they/them” and “another set of pronouns.” 

“The number of students openly identifying as trans and nonbinary has grown dramatically in the last few years,” Dr. Genny Beemyn, the report’s author, said in a statement. “As nonbinary people become more visible and gain greater acceptance in society, the number of trans youth, especially nonbinary young people, will most certainly continue to increase.”

Beemyn, the coordinator of Campus Pride’s Trans Policy Clearinghouse and director of the Stonewall Center at UMass Amherst, was given exclusive access by the Common App to analyze gender identity and pronoun data. 

Beemyn identified transgender men as applicants who indicated their legal sex as female and their gender identity as male. Transgender women were individuals who indicated their legal sex as male and their gender identity as female.

“The goal for all colleges should be that no student is misnamed or misgendered by the institution in areas within its control, including mail, email, and in-person communications; course rosters and advisee lists; housing assignments; online directories; ID cards; and diplomas,” said Beemyn. 

Though this is the first application cycle where the Common App has asked for gender identity, the report notes that other sources, like the American College Health Association (ACHA), have shown the number of students openly identifying as transgender and nonbinary has been increasing. According to the ACHA, there was a 3% increase – from 1.6% to 4.6% – in students who identified as trans or nonbinary from fall 2016 to fall 2021. 

According to a 2022 Gallup poll, 20.8% of Generation Z identifies as LGBTQ – by far the most of any age group and an over 10% increase compared to 2017. Of the Gen Z respondents who identified as queer, 2.1% identified as transgender – with most, 15%, identifying as bisexual. 

Shane Windmeyer, founder and CEO of Campus Pride, applauded the Common App for its “evolution to be more equitable and inclusive in college admissions applications.”

“Collecting data around gender identity represents a more holistic, intersectional approach to all students and allows campuses to take responsibility for trans and nonbinary students,” he said. “At a time when trans youth are being targeted across the country in the most inhumane ways, this new report sends a clear message that trans people deserve recognition, respect – and, most importantly, their inclusion and safety matters.”

The Common App plans to add “X” or “another legal sex” as an option, in addition to “female” and “male” for the 2023-2024 application season.

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Trevor Project CEO sacked re: ‘workplace well-being’ concerns

There was “staff dissatisfaction, particularly as it relates to the organization’s quick large-scale growth & the burden it put on employees”

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TrevorLIVE LA 2018 Opening Keynote by Amit Paley (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – The board of directors of the Trevor Project has “elected to make a change in leadership” by removing from office it’s chief executive officer and executive director since 2017, Amit Paley, according to a statement released to the Washington Blade.

The Blade reached out to Trevor Project, which describes itself on its website as the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for LGBTQ young people, for comment after the publication Teen Vogue broke the news about Paley’s dismissal in a Nov. 4 story.

The story cited an unidentified source familiar with the organization as saying the dismissal was brought about following “staff dissatisfaction, particularly as it relates to the organization’s quick large-scale growth and the burden it put on employees.”

In its statement to the Blade, which is identical to the one it sent to Teen Vogue, Trevor Project says in recent years it has struggled to provide its services for LGBTQ youth at risk for suicide in the midst of a hostile political climate in which LGBTQ youth and their families are under attack. 

“The Trevor Project is currently facing a period of transition, rethinking how to sustainably grow our 24/7 crisis services to respond to the public health crisis of LGBTQ youth suicide and address the mental health disparities impacting these youth,” the statement says.

“In 2017, the organization averaged less than 200 inbound crisis contacts per day; in 2022, it’s averaging more than 2,000 crisis contacts pers day,” the statement continues. 

“This intense climate has led to significant stress on our organization, and many members of our staff have raised concerns about workplace well-being, professional development, prioritization performance metrics and resourcing compensation — particularly as they impact our BIPOC [Black, indigenous and people of color], transgender, nonbinary and disabled team members,” the statement says.

“While a comprehensive, independent review of the Trevor Project is being conducted, the board of directors elected to make a change in leadership,” it says, while making no specific mention that it dismissed Paley.  

In response to a request by the Blade for comment, Paley arranged for a communications firm representing him to send the Blade the same statement he released to Teen Vogue.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to lead the Trevor Project’s life-saving team for over five years,” Paley’s statement says. 

It points out that under his tenure, the organization expanded its services by launching a “24/7 digital crisis service, created a ground-breaking research department, expanded the world’s largest campaign to end conversion therapy and grew our team from 50 employees to over 500.”

The statement, which makes no mention of the reported concerns raised by employees, concludes by saying, “the Trevor Project’s vital work is needed now more than ever, and I will always remain deeply committed to the organization’s vision of a world where all LGBTQ young people see a bright future for themselves.”

The Trevor Project’s statement, meanwhile, says until a permanent CEO is identified, Peggy Rajski, one of Trevor Project’s founders and longtime board member, will serve as interim CEO. It says Gina Muñoz, the board’s chair emeritus, will serve as special assistant to the interim CEO.

Teen Vogue reports in its Nov. 4 story that two sources familiar with the Trevor Project said at some point prior to Paley’s removal, more than 200 employees signed a letter to the board expressing dissatisfaction with Paley’s leadership.

An earlier article by Teen Vogue published on July 25 reports that some staff members at that time were calling on Paley to resign after news surfaced that he worked prior to joining the Trevor Project for the corporate consulting firm McKinsey and Co. helping the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma increase its sales of opioid drugs. 

With many LGBTQ youth, along with other young people, dying from the overdose of opioid drugs across the country, some of the Trevor Project staffers thought it was hypocritical for Paley to join the Trevor Project as CEO shortly after promoting the sale of opioids, the Teen Vogue article reports.

The article reports Paley sent an email to the staff after news about his links to opioid sales surfaced, stating, “If I knew then what I know now, I would not have agreed to do any consulting work for [Purdue] and I regret that I did.”

At the time Paley became Trevor Project’s CEO in 2017 and during his first few years there, Trevor Project had offices in West Hollywood, Calif., and New York City, with a smaller office in D.C. But according to spokesperson Tali Mackay, currently, “the Trevor Project is fully remote, and we do not have physical offices.”

One former employee who spoke to the Blade on condition of not being identified said most concern raised by staff members about Paley was not because he wanted to expand the Trevor Project’s programs to meet the needs of a growing number of clients.

The main concern, the former staffer said, was his perceived inability or unwillingness to address the needs of the staff, including transgender staff members who felt their specific needs weren’t being met.

“It’s hard to make that kind of growth,” the former staffer said. “And I think he had a vision, but that vision had to turn inward more than outward sometimes.”  

Both Paley and the Trevor Project officials declined to comment further than what they said in the statements they released, their respective spokespersons said.

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Vice-President Kamala Harris commits to fighting ‘epidemic of hate’

Harris denounced the “vicious attack” on Paul Pelosi saying it “speaks to what HRC stands for- work we will still need to do to fight hate”

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Vice-President Kamala Harris delivers remarks as seen on a large screen at the annual HRC dinner Oct 29, 2022. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris committed to fighting the “powerful forces trying to take our country backwards” in prepared remarks Saturday during the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) National Dinner in Washington, D.C.

“The very existence of LGBTQ+ people is under assault,” Harris said from the stage of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. She decried the “epidemic of hate” that has gripped this country while celebrating the intersectional work that has been undertaken by HRC and the Biden-Harris administration. 

“This next chapter of HRC is going to center liberty and equality for all, with no exceptions,” incoming HRC President Kelley Robinson said. Speaking just before the vice president’s address, she rejected incrementalism and highlighted the importance of strengthening the movement with coalition building and grassroots organizing. 

Robison – who after taking the helm on November 28 will be the first Black queer woman to lead America’s largest LGBTQ+ organization – previously served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She was introduced on stage by Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson. 

Other speakers from HRC rounded out the program along with the evening’s honorees, who included Abbi Jacobson, Chanté Adams, and George Takei.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was slated to headline the national dinner together with the vice president, but a spokesperson confirmed to the Washington Blade on Friday that she would not be able to attend. 

Early that morning, an intruder violently assaulted Pelosi’s husband after breaking into the couple’s San Francisco home. The Speaker was in Washington at the time. Mr. Pelosi, 82, was hospitalized with a skull fracture but is expected to make a full recovery.

On Saturday, the Speaker’s office published a “Dear colleague” letter thanking fellow members for their support and expressing gratitude for the “quick response” of law enforcement and emergency services personnel.  

Harris began her comments by denouncing the “vicious attack” on Paul Pelosi. It “speaks to what HRC stands for, which is the work that we will still need to do to fight hate” while sending the message that there is no place for political violence in America, she said.  

“Our HRC family is thinking of Speaker Pelosi, her husband and her family – and sending love and support their way,” HRC Interim President Joni Madison tweeted on Friday. Robinson shared the message on Twitter, adding her own words of encouragement and well-wishes. 

The National Dinner is HRC’s largest annual fundraiser. The organization has hosted the event each year since 1997, apart from a two-year hiatus from 2020 to 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous speakers have included Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Maya Angelou, John Lewis, Rosie O’Donnell, and Sally Field. 

Madison has led HRC since the termination of former president Alphonso David last year over his alleged involvement in helping to cover up sexual harassment allegations against former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during his tenure as Cuomo’s chief counsel.

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Remembering Matthew Shepard; His Gen Z legacy & spirit lives on

Spirit of Matthew Award, is given to “one truly inspiring young person, whose courage, commitment, & outspoken leadership reminds us of Matt”

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Zander Moricz and Matthew Shepard (Los Angeles Blade graphic)

DENVER – This past weekend the Matthew Shepard Foundation held its annual gala to uphold and honor the forever 21-year-old gay University of Wyoming freshman who was brutally murdered twenty-four years ago.

Wednesday’s date, today, marks the day Shepard died in a hospital ICU five days after he had been pistol-whipped, beaten and then left for dead tied to a fence on the prairie outside of Laramie, Wyoming, becoming the victim of one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history.

Matthew Shepard’s passion to foster a more caring and just world became the mission of his parents Judy and Dennis, who founded the non-profit months after their son’s death, to carry that hope filled message forward to the generations of LGBTQ+ youth who would follow.

The Shepard family’s tireless advocacy including their mission of erasing hate for people from all walks of life, young and old, and the passage of a federal hate crimes law named for Matthew, has also extended into ensuring that LGBTQ+ youth will have safe spaces and find acceptance.

One of the honors that the Matthew Shepard Foundation bestows annually at its gala, the Spirit of Matthew Award, is given to “one truly inspiring young person, whose courage, commitment, and outspoken leadership reminds us of Matt,” and this year’s honoree has an impressive track record in fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in his home state of Florida.

Eighteen-year-old LGBTQ+ activist, Zander Moricz, made national headlines when his high school administrators forbade him from mentioning his sexuality in a graduation speech. After significant news coverage when he cleverly worked his curly hair into the speech implying by not directly referencing his being gay, Moricz was invited to Washington, DC by U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to deliver his speech in its original form.

Moricz also joined a lawsuit as one of its youngest plaintiffs challenging the Florida law known as ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ which has been targeted by a coalition of legal and LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, high-powered law firms, and 16 state attorneys general. The lawsuit was dismissed last week by a federal court on a technicality but the judge left the option open for a revised version to be filed again.

He has also partnered with another LGBTQ+ teen activist, Syracuse, New York teen Tyler Johnson, who also made headlines when Johnson’s high school principal Mike O’Brien called a meeting with him to inform him that he could not write about his experiences growing up gay, per a districtwide policy governing communication about sexuality, illicit drugs, and other subjects. 

The two teens are using their social media platforms to bring attention to discrimination and injustice, maximizing their reach by connecting with influential activists and government officials, and then pursuing litigation in hopes of winning legal protections for their peers and future generations of LGBTQ+ youth.

In his acceptance speech from 2022 Spirit of Matthew Award Saturday evening, Moricz said in part:

“Our community only exists because of our tireless pursuit of visibility, and because of that, because we have never been able to take our togetherness for granted, our community is strong. We channel this strength into our resistance for existence; day after day, generation after generation, we have forever had to strive to survive. We have forever had to embrace radical optimism, believing tomorrow will be better than today, even if today was worse than yesterday.

We’ve learned to transform tragedy into trajectory–refusing to allow those we’ve lost to become lost to history. When beautiful people like Matthew are stolen from us, beautiful people like Judy and Dennis position a purpose within their pain. We mobilize as we mourn, and we grow as we grieve. When thunder cracks its whips and lightning licks its lips, we rise to meet ugliness with beauty and we form rainbows so that those who are hiding from the storm know it is safe to come out. Today, right now, we are carving a rainbow through some of the grayest days we’ve seen in years.

It is my promise that we will bring the Spirit of Matthew into our work, creating leadership and preventing suffering like his. It is my promise that we will not further but finish his fight, so that the legacy we carry on behalf of his family is the one it always should have been, which is not Matthew’s tragedy but his vision, his practice: unconditional, inclusive love.”

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24/7 crisis services for LGBTQ+ youth in Mexico launches

“Emphasis is on cultural competency and understanding of the life experiences for the LGBTQ+ community and youth in Mexico”

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Screenshot/YouTube KPBS/PBS San Diego, Calif.

TIZAYUCA, Hidalgo, Mexico – Mateo seems to be an average adolescent guy, at least in outward appearances and love of football as soccer is known here. But he keeps a deeply personal part of himself, “mi verdadero yo” (my real self) away from even his closest friends and family instead only divesting himself of his protective cloak on his weekend forays into the Zona Rosa of Mexico City, a neighborhood that is center of LGBTQ+ life in the Mexican capital city about an hour and a half away.

Mateo is gay and his family is homophobic as are many of his local friends and acquaintances in Tizayuca where he lives.

The stress and strain of being gay at times can be overwhelming he says although he can escape surreptitiously when he’s at home by binge watching LGBTQ content on Netflix and other platforms. Still Mateo says, there are those moments when he felt nothing but despair, helpless, and no one to talk to.

It was his journeys into the Zona Rosa neighborhood and his online LGBTQ+ friends on Instagram that saved him more than once in those bleak intervals. Still he says a way to connect with counselors is badly needed especially in places in his country that don’t have access for LGBTQ+ youth to a gayborhood and a support system of community.

For Mateo and countless other LGBTQ+ youth in the 32 states that make-up Mexico not having a central safe space and people who understand changed as today, on National Coming Out Day, The Trevor Project announced the official launch of its free, confidential, 24/7 digital crisis services for LGBTQ young people in the country.

For the first time in its 25 year history of service to LGBTQ+ youth, Trevor has expanded its crisis intervention services for LGBTQ youth outside of the United States. According to official figures from the National Survey on Sexual and Gender Diversity (ENDISEG), 28.7% of the LGBTQ population in Mexico has thought about or attempted suicide in their lifetime, and as is the case in the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in Mexico.

The Los Angeles Blade had an opportunity to speak with Jess Leslie, Head of International Digital Crisis Services for the Trevor Project. Leslie told the Blade that groundwork to build out the new Mexico City-based Trevor Project Mexico placed emphasis on cultural competency, recognition of the need for a integrated enterprise structure employed via SMS text messaging, WhatsApp, and online chat.

The approach to engagement with LGBTQ+ youth in the country Leslie said was a “whole of Mexico” team comprised of crisis counselors “coming from a cultural humble place.”

Leslie acknowledged that there are shortcomings in Internet communications access throughout Mexico as according to a 2021 study by Stanford University found that there were more than 90 million internet users, that is, approximately 71 percent of its inhabitants, yet access points were limited in the more rural states. But she pointed out that by setting up through the three primary means of communication, SMS text messaging, WhatsApp, and the online ‘Trevor chat” LGBTQ+ youth will have the means to communicate with counselors.

Offering a safe space and with a staff entirely of LGBTQ+ Mexicans led by Edurne Balmori, Executive Director of The Trevor Project Mexico, whose career resume noted numerous accolades and has a powerful track record in business, the 55 member in-country team which includes 35 experienced crisis counselors will be able to have positive impact Leslie noted.

She added The Trevor Project Mexico will rely on a volunteer-based model in which counselors will undergo extensive training and implement an evidence-based crisis support model.

“Emphasis is on cultural competency and understanding of the life experiences for the LGBTQ+ community and youth in Mexico,” Leslie added.

In a press release announcing the project on Tuesday, Balmori said;”Today we celebrate the activation of our services in Mexico, kicking off what we hope will be a global social movement around suicide prevention. For many LGBTQ youth in the country, expressing themselves and simply being who they are can put their physical safety and mental wellness at risk. At The Trevor Project Mexico, we will strive to end the stigma around the issue of mental health, provide LGBTQ youth with a safe and trusted space, and ultimately save lives.”

“It’s incredibly inspiring to see our vision of providing life-affirming crisis services to LGBTQ young people beyond the U.S. being realized today with our launch in Mexico. This is a major milestone in our goal to end the global public health crisis of LGBTQ youth suicide,” said Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project. “The Trevor Project is committed to building a world where every single LGBTQ young person has access to resources that affirm who they are, and we couldn’t be more optimistic about the impact we’ll have on this journey to support more LGBTQ young people around the world.”

Leslie tells the Blade, the most important thing is that LGBTQ+ youth are afforded the opportunity to have access to all the services that The Trevor Project has.

In the press release, Trevor noted that it is leveraging its relationships with several of its existing corporate and technology partners to enable and support this international work.

Of note, Google.org announced a renewed grant of $2 million this week, designed specifically to help scale The Trevor Project’s life-saving work to new international geographies. This grant will make Google.org a lead funder of the organization’s international work.

In addition, The Trevor Project was able to build and customize its crisis services platform for Mexico using Twilio Flex.

In an interview last Spring with NBC News when Trevor executives first announced the expansion into Mexico, Cristian González Cabrera, who researches LGBTQ rights in Latin America for Human Rights Watch, told NBC there’s still “a lot to be done” and that The Trevor Project’s expansion in Mexico will be “very welcome.”

“Legal advances don’t always translate to social or lived progress for LGBTQ people in the region,” Cabrera said referring to the fact that same-sex marriage has been legalized in at least a dozen of Mexico’s 32 states. “Mexico remains a conservative country in certain aspects and regions, and LGBTQ people continue to experience all sorts of discrimination in all sectors of life, whether that’s education, health care, in the job market, et cetera.”

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