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Young, queer Latina leader comes full circle
In 1998, I was one of four people to receive a Queer Youth Leadership Award for my activism around gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning (queer) issues. I was not out to my family as a lesbian yet and, while I was not in my mom's custody, I remember my fear about the possibly of her finding out.
I still smile nervously if I let myself remember the feeling. Two of my three sisters attended the ceremony, along with friends and adults who had guided me during the toughest years of my life. If they had not been there to support me, the award would not have meant as much.
I realize, much more than before, the importance of the QYLA in the lives of youth and other individuals who volunteer extra hours to make sure queer people receive equal access and opportunities everywhere. Community activism found me in the midst of falling through the cracks of the foster care system, my father passing away and proposition 187, a proposition introduced in California in 1994 to deny illegal immigrants social services, health care and public education.
As a young, queer Latina, I was saved from falling into the hands of drugs, violence and total depression because I became involved in my community. Queer activism specifically helped me deal with the added pressure of feeling I had to conform to a heterosexual world. Looking back, I don’t know where I would have turned had it not been for the youth group Gay And Proud, which formed in 1996 out of a Watsonville clinic, Salud Para la Gente. It was at a GAP meeting that I also met an adult ally who, today, respects me as her peer. Having been recognized at 19 years old for my involvement in the young, queer community gave me the confidence and assurance I needed to take the next steps to accomplishing bigger goals in life.
This year, I find myself nominating a queer youth who, through her creative and ambitious activist work, reminds me that supporting youth is paving the best path possible for our future leaders. My message to Santa Cruz County community members today is to step it up and really support teens, where I feel it counts a great deal to young people, through recognition. Through my personal experience and my work with teens, I have learned the process for successful, positive teen growth is offering activities that are well organized and have continuity. The QYLA have always recognized community members who work to make Santa Cruz County even better! Preparation, action, reflection and celebration are all essential elements for providing all youth safe and healthy opportunities.
Teens, allies and organizations at this year’s QYLA have contributed to this process and will be honored at this special celebration. I invite you to do for your neighbor across town and across county, what my sisters, friends and mentors did for me in 1998 — convince me to believe that I am powerful, able and ready to accomplish anything I set my mind to.
Our QYLA offers the continuity and recognition for queer youth allies and organizations that probably otherwise would not happen. We foster the leaders that will continue to teach leadership to keep building a stronger Santa Cruz County. See you all at the Queer Youth Leadership Awards Ceremony 2006!
For more information on QYLA and ticket locations, visit online at http://www.diversitycenter.org/qytf/2006qyla
The Ninth Annual Queer Youth Leadership Awards, scheduled for May 21st at the Henry J. Mello Center in Watsonville at 4 p.m., is a project of the Santa Cruz County Task Force for LGBTIQ Youth, which is affiliated with the Diversity Center. For more information, call 427-4004.
Mireya Gómez-Contreras is a youth programs coordinator at the YWCA in Watsonville. She is the oldest of four girls in her family, a graduate of UC Santa Cruz and a member of the local autonomous chapter of the Watsonville Brown Berets. The opinions of columnists are not necessarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.