I’m happy to report I sailed right through Pride Mentorship Project this past Saturday.
That’s a lie.
Here’s a better ship analogy…I was a wreck.
When I signed up to be a mentor, I didn’t really know what I had to offer. I struggled with my sexuality for most of my life, finally culminating in me “coming out” a year ago, and if I’m being completely honest, I am still struggling.
This was the 2nd Pride Mentorship Project the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center was hosting. Invitations were sent out to various high schools welcoming LGBTQPIA* youth who wanted to connect with their CSULA counterparts and spend a day discussing relevant issues in the community. This year the project was also opened up to CSULA students who wanted to be mentees. I jumped aboard immediately thinking of how difficult things were for me growing up without LGBTQPIA role models.
But now I was having doubts. What did I have to offer these young people, when I didn’t even feel like I had my life together?
None of that mattered though, once the mentees walked in the door. I along with the other mentors had to put our best foot forward for them.
It was an emotional day. Throughout the activities and the discussions there were stories about fear, violence, sexual assault, drug abuse, depression, suicide, rejection, hurt, loss, and pain. And there were also silver linings of love, friendship, hope, triumph, and pride.
Suffice to say, my nervousness was drowned out in the intense sense of belonging and connection. LGBTQPIA individuals are often shut out and set aside, but in that room we were a community, linked together by our experiences and identities.
I came away with a lot of love for everyone and a promise to myself to be kinder to others because there is no way of knowing what burdens a stranger may be carrying. I had walked into that room feeling like I had to have everything together and what I learned was that we all struggle and it’s ok to feel and open up in our moments of weakness.
I connected with the mentees who came despite facing personal risk, the allies who were there to stand with their friends even in adversity, the teacher looking to create safe spaces for her students, and the individual who after a lifetime of doubt about his own identity told me he had decided to “take back what was mine” and found his way to self-love and acceptance. I connected with my fellow mentors who had faltered often in their own journey toward self-acceptance and had come out on top. I was honored to stand amongst such amazingly heroic individuals.
As I looked around the room, I saw in the mentees more conviction, strength, pride, and bravery than I ever had at their age, than I have now. I felt a great sense of hope, because I had taken on this project thinking I would teach younger folks, but they taught me instead. Even though it’s not always easy to see, we are making progress, change is happening and will continue to happen.
If this is a war we were fighting. It is definitely a war we are winning.
*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Pansexual, Intersex, Asexual, Ally