It’s back-to-school time. With the pandemic raging on, anxiety levels are high as guardians, educators, and students are each doing their best to adapt to ever changing landscape, get vaccinated, navigate the digital divide, attempt to create and engage in educational experiences that are anything but normal. For LGBTQ youth who may be still stuck at home with unsupportive families and disconnected from their LGBTQ peers and GSAs, these challenges are even harder to bear. Even with a strong desire to reconnect, the thought of going back to school is also causing disproportionate levels of stress and anxiety as youth reenter some in-person school settings unclear about COVID-19 protections and whether or not they will be in a supportive learning environment.
Prior to the lockdowns in 2020, our most robust year-round programs already centered around LGBTQ-youth. Under the former administration, Pride and many other LGBTQ-serving nonprofits saw a dramatic rise in need from LGBTQ-youth, so our programs grew. Throughout the isolation of the COVID-19 lock down, our programs again grew as we went into virtual spaces, and youth looked for new ways to connect.
Our youth-led model of organizing these programs allows us to adapt to an ever-changing landscape, respond to the needs of our youth, and empowers them to develop their own curriculum and events. One of our favorite annual events is our Youth Leadership Academy. This day-long summit brings together youth from across the San Diego and Imperial County region to connect with LGBTQ organizations and community leaders, providing them access to and understanding of their legal rights and protections as well as skills to help them be their own best advocates for change in their communities. Returning youth are able to attend more advanced courses throughout the day, and this year we are adding an educator and guardian track to provide additional understanding and tools for those who tend to our next generation of LGBTQ leaders.
LGBTQ youth may have more opportunities than previous generations, yet it is important to remember that our work is not done. 2021 has seen the most anti-LGBTQ legislation than any year in our movement’s history, much of it targeting youth. Additionally this nation’s hyper-polarized political climate coupled with emergent social media platforms mean that our youth are targeted in ways previous generations never had to consider. If our movement is going to continue to progress, we have to break the cycle of LGBTQ youth being severed from the history, laws, and legacy we have all fought for. We must be intentional about how we connect our intergenerational movement to our youth, so we learn from them and respond to the new and emerging challenges they face. This is how our community and movement will remain Resilient.
Fernando Lopez is the Executive Director of San Diego Pride. Lopez’s years of LGBT advocacy, nonprofit management, public education, diversity consulting, media relations, guest lectures, and organizing have made them a consistent presence ensuring the struggles of the LGBT community are ever visible.