On Saturday December 4, 2010 at Coppin State University, youth advocates, social workers, writers, lawyers, entertainers, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers came together to discuss how to make all youth feel safe and valued in our society.  Youth Wellness and Equality Day was something you don’t see much in Baltimore: a day where people from all walks of life came together to support the lives of LGBTQ youth in the city. Finally, as a collective, we stood up and said “No More!” No more bullying and harassment, no more suicides and mental health risks, no more homelessness and no more discrimination due to sexual orientation.  Most common, no more passive homophobia that affects the lives of all our children.  How many of us were afraid to be ourselves in our youth in fears of being called a name? 

These issues and more were discussed during our Listening Project and Community Forum.   During the Listening Project, we watched “No Homo” a youth made short documentary created by Baltimore’s own New Lens Productions.  The participants were extremely touched by the video, and as young adults it took them back to growing up as a same gender loving youth.  We also discussed solutions and what needed to happen to make things better.  Mentoring groups, unity within the LGBT community, anti-bullying or safe school zones, and more honest conversations about the affects of homophobia on youth were discussed as possible solutions.

The Community Forum was a huge success.  The discussion moderated by public radio WEAA’s Anthony McCarthy, focused on what institutions that have the greatest affect on youth could do to promote wellness and safety in the community for LGBTQ youth (of color primarily). The panelists included myself, Kenneth Morrison, Youth Coordinator of Park Heights Renaissance and author Meredith Moise, activist, teacher, writer and priest; Lisa C. Moore,publisher of books written by LGBT people of color; Bryanna “Aeon Farr” Jenkins, Transgender activist with Trans United, student and popular E-show host, and Lorenzo “Bleu Waters” Cooper, Psychology and Social Work student and artist. This dynamic panel came with great insight and unique perspective on not only the problem, but the solution. One solution suggested by Lisa C. Moore and supported by others is this: “We need more black gay people to come out, and speak up on a one-on-one level. That’s another very effective form of activism. I’m doing that on an individual level, letting young black LGBTQ youth know that we’re out here, regular folks walking around, living our lives on the regular.” See the video for the community forum here.

The night ended with Kenneth Morrison’s Book Release Party for Blood, Bricks and Dandelions: To Be Young Black and Gay hosted by publisherDewDrop Collective’s Marc Evans.  Kenneth read excerpts from this book discussing his challenges with his first crush, first love, coming out, being kicked out, being supported by his adoptive gay father, and other successes and challenges as a youth activist in Baltimore.  Many stop up, gay and straight, and expressed how his story has touched them and how an event like this shows there’s hope for a better tomorrow.  The After-School Instituteperformed a skit and dance performance in the light of World Aids Day.  Other featured performances included local sensations Hollywood Infinite, Uni Q Mical, and J Pope.  Through their art they represented the challenges of being an LGBTQ youth as well as general challenges and successes. Great performances were also done by open mic participants.

Lorenzo Cooper reflected on the event saying this,“Wonderful event…I enjoyed the panelists, the healthy dialogue, and the wonderful poetry…I read the book in its entirety, I am so glad I was a part of the event.”

Special thanks to those who came, our volunteers, and our sponsors: The After-School Institute, The Portal, Park Heights Renaissance, and Coppin State University’s Urban Studies Department. The Baltimore Youth Empowerment through Conflict Resolution Program is very proud to be a part of such a ground breaking event. Please contact me atmjones@afsc.org if you would to be involved in future conversations about this issue. We are trying to effect real change in this city via initiatives that work.