Monday, August 15, 2011

Moving testimony from young LGBT advocate

Jose Romero tells Footprints that he wants to start a nonprofit service organization in District 10 that connects local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered folks to meaningful support. He envisions a safe place that offers everything from after school programming to workforce development classes, all geared toward the LGBT community.

Never mind that he is just 22 years old...has had his share of tough life experiences...and has lived for 20 years in Bayview Hunters Point where youth who dream big do not always get the support they deserve. Jose is likely to deliver.

Already he is a youth representative on the Human Rights Commission's LGBT Advocacy Committee, and holds a day job with Visitacion Valley's One Stop program. He was also president of the Gay Straight Alliance in high school, a LGBT representative to the SF Health Initiative, a member of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straights Education Network, and a facilitator for the Mission Neighborhood Center Aquellos Locos. Whew!

When the HRC held a meeting in District 10 to talk about LGBT issues, it surprised no one who knew him that Jose was a core organizer, or that he would open the meeting with his personal testimony about growing up gay and Latino in an often unforgiving place.

"Be the change you want to see in the world," he says. "That quote from Mahatma Gandhi inspired me in high school, and still does."

Jose understands that it's not easy to do the work to which he has committed himself. He is taking the long view, building a network of support with allies, and building trust with the people he wants to help.

"We need to reach out to people, because they won't feel safe reaching out to services...if they even know those services exist. We need to build relationships first."

Jose is featured in today's Bay Area Reporter article, by Tony LeTigre, about LGBT people in a changing Bayview Hunters Point. See the full article here. His testimony, which opened the HRC LGBT Committee meeting in D10, is reprinted here by permission. He hopes that, by sharing it, he can help build awareness about the presence of LGBT youth in the neighborhood.
My name is Jose Romero. I am the Career Placement Specialist at the Visitacion Valley One Stop, with Florence Crittenton Services-Whitney Young Child Development Center. I am also a part of the LGBT Advisory Committee with the San Francisco Human Right Commission.

This panel discussion is really important to me. It was very difficult for me coming out as a Latino, in a closed minded family where perspective and image of what people will say was important. I was born and raised in Hunters Point. I grew up to be myself and serve my community.

When I came out, my life went upside down. I needed support and was referred to the Castro Community. My first reaction was “What is Castro?” I was told, “That’s where all the gay people are welcomed.” I was then wondering, “What about LGBT services in my own community where I’m comfortable and able to be myself? Where are my resources here?” That is what brings us here today. Where are the services? When I came out I was afraid and lonely and had no idea how to access programs. Where were the doors I needed to open in my neighborhood?

A quote by Mahatma Gandhi that makes me a strong gay Latino man is, “Be the change you want to see in this world.” I was called a faggot so many times, assaulted, watched gay people being harassed for just being themselves. This is our opportunity to overcome and find solutions to Homophobia and racism in district 10.

We are all the same. I am here to share with you what I’ve been through on a personal level to bring into perspective the services that are needed in my community. For those who are serving the LGBT community in District 10, let’s speak out and tell the community you are here.

Supervisor David Campos is a strong Latino leader whom I look up to. He once told me to follow my dreams and be who I am. I applied for the LGBT Advisory Committee with a purpose – to speak out for those who don’t know or unable to speak out for themselves. I am speaking now when I say bring more LGBT service to District 10.

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