Samuel Yu, former Victory Congressional Intern and current Leadership Programs Intern, writes about the importance of training the next generation of LGBTQ leaders.
Today we have the privilege of seeing greater numbers of LGBTQ people in elected office and other public leadership positions to make sure our community is at the table and heard. We remain severely underrepresented, but there are seven LGBTQ people in Congress, and many at other levels of government who dedicate their lives to fighting for what’s best for the LGBTQ community. Yet LGBTQ leadership is not exclusive to LGBTQ adults — LGBTQ youth are standing up like never before by demonstrating their leadership and commitment to make change.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to work at an Activist Camp for SMYAL, a DC-based LGBTQ organization that supports and empowers LGBTQ youth in the metropolitan region. At the camp, SMYAL works to teach young LGBTQ activists leadership skills to use in their communities and schools. These skills range from using art as a form of activism to learning how to build and sustain a GSA (gay-straight alliance) in their schools. During a workshop on conflict management, I was amazed by the critical thinking of the LGBTQ youth in attendance — and soon enough these trainees became facilitators.
They are discussing issues that are timely for LGBTQ youth — and the entire country. Issues like violence against trans people, evolving identies, racism, privilege and intersectionality. These young folks showed me that despite their age, they could lead conversations, discuss important LGBTQ matters, and speak their truth to power with vigor, passion and conviction. These budding leaders of various backgrounds and identities was proof that uplifting and training young LGBTQ people must begin now because they are our future public servants and leaders.
These young people provide the opportunity to build a more diverse pipeline of LGBTQ leaders — more LGBTQ leaders of color, of different gender expressions, and more leaders who understand how these identities intersect and impact one’s LGBTQ identity. These young people at SMYAL’s Activist Camp, if given the opportunity, could very well be the diverse leadership that the LGBTQ community needs and will need moving forward. But the move from local GSA president to state representative is not easy.
Although there are so many young LGBTQ people who convey a strong passion for LGBTQ politics, their passion often does not outweigh their vulnerability. While numerous young LGBTQ folk will become excellent leaders, the reality is 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ and of that percent, 44 percent identify as Black and 26 percent identify as Latino. This is just one of the many obstacles that LGBTQ youth, particularly youth of color, face when navigating a society that denies them protection, validation and equality. These young activists and their lived experiences are the diversity that the LGBTQ community can learn and benefit from.
We need more folks like Mary Washington, a current member of the Maryland House of Delegates and the second African-American lesbian in America to win a seat in the state legislature. But, for that to happen, it is important that we work to support these young folks here and now.
When I was a Victory Congressional Intern on Capitol Hill, I learned that perhaps no better place to make meaningful change is through public service — whether elected office or within government. So now is the time to invest in LGBTQ leadership and encourage these people to see themselves as future U.S. Senators or state legislators. We need them more than ever.