Tag Archives: Out Youth

Post the Seventy-Seventh or On Accountability

For those of you who don’t know, I used to work for an organization called Out Youth. As you could guess, Out Youth is a queer youth organization that strives to “promote the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social well being” of queer and trans* young people. In other words, they seek to empower queer young people so that they can become leaders in their community. Out Youth is a crisis prevention organization because it gives young people the tools and community necessary to survive. It gives some young people the access to family, support and community that might not be offered at home. I know Out Youth has forever changed my life.

And it was, without a doubt, my favorite job. I got to work with amazing, inspiring young people all day long. I was constantly surrounded by a queer family that I knew had my back. I was working with some badass organizers who were working on the ground, creating safe spaces for queer young people all over Texas. I was working to empower young people to fight for the lives they wanted today and not just wait for it to “get better”. And I loved it. I would come in everyday and these young people would teach me what was really good.

Unfortunately, however, I lost that job. But it wasn’t because I was bad at my job or not meeting my goals. And it was not because the youth felt that I was oppressive or problematic and wanted me fired. I was fired for trying to hold the board of directors accountable. I was fired for organizing the young people against the board of directors. I was fired for trying to revolutionize the organization so that power was centered with the young people.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no saint. I certainly fucked up and made mistakes. I said several things that probably would have been better heard in a private forum. I’m a hothead and my sharp tongue sometimes gets the best of me. And I have a long way to go in learning how to engage to transform. However, nothing that I has ever said have been untrue. And I was always accountable to the young people that I served.

The board of directors, however, is anything but accountable to the young people that they purport to serve. And no action displays this lack of accountability more than in their recent hiring of Aubrey Wilkerson as the new Executive Director. This is the same Aubrey who was the board chair of Out Youth. You know, the same board that hires the Executive Director (I won’t even get into how shady that is). The same Aubrey who squandered a surplus, failed to raise enough money for the organization (despite being a professional fundraiser) and made only a token effort to include young people in the decision making process. This is the same Aubrey that talked down to and misgendered many youth. The same Aubrey who fails to address racial and economic justice at Out Youth and disrespected the only staff member of color on multiple occasions.

What’s more is that the hiring committee (which only had one youth member, even though a youth run and led organization would/should have had more youth than adult members on any decision making body) didn’t even recommend Aubrey to the board for consideration. When they recommended three different people, instead of picking one of those three, the Board went back to review applications and hired Aubrey. Let me repeat that again. The board of directors hired someone that had a direct influence on the decision because they were the goddamn board chair for 4 goddamn years. They hired someone that wasn’t even recommended.

I can’t even.

Now, I don’t claim to speak for the youth. Only they can speak for themselves. But from what I understand, in my time involved in Out Youth, Aubrey has never been liked by most of the youth. I have countless stories where Aubrey’s self-importance was very off putting, especially to trans youth and youth of color. I have so many stories of youth not even knowing who Aubrey was until Lisa Rogers was fired. I have so many stories of youth not feeling heard by Aubrey.

So, not only did the board hire someone who had a stake in the decision-making process (even if he “temporarily” resigned as board chair) but they hired someone who the young people don’t even like. I see where the board might be coming from. They hope that Aubrey will raise those millions that he did at his last job. But what good does millions do if there are no youth? Because that is what this decision is going to do. Its going to push youth out of Out Youth.

What, than, does accountability look like? It looks like changing the structure of the organization so that young people have more power than the adults. It means that all decisions must have final approval by the young people. It means that we empower the young people and give them the tools to drive the organization in the direction that they choose. This is more than just asking for their input. It means integrating young people into every decision making process and giving the young people the knowledge and tools to do that. It means that the adult allies must remain allies and act in support roles only.

But most of all accountability means that we, as adult allies with adult privilege, keep our privilege in check. It means that we don’t take up to much space, that we don’t dominate conversations. It means stepping back and allowing young people to take charge. It means we don’t treat young people like children or think that they can’t handle the responsibility. Accountability means that when we fuck up, because we will, we don’t get defensive. We apologize and don’t do it again.

Accountability means that we do not recreate the systems of power and oppression that exist in society within our own organizations. Within our own families.

So I call upon the Out Youth board of directors. Be accountable to the young people that you serve. Show your willingness to work with young people by renouncing your power. Show your desire to really empower young people by restructuring the organization to give them power. Show your dedication to social justice by being just.

And young people, never forget that they are nothing with out you. There is no Out Youth without youth. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. The people united shall never be defeated. Its time to take your organization back. Force them to be accountable to you. Its time to create something new.

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Post the Twenty-Third or On #OccupyWallStreet

A revolution is coming to this country. A revolution the likes of which this nation has never seen, both in scale and in non-violence. And it’s spreading. Quickly. What started as a midsize protest of Wall Street in New York has quickly been taken up by many cities including Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, with many more being organized and started. A few hundred have rapidly expanded to a few thousand and more people are joining everyday.

For the first time in a generation people are standing up and saying No to corporations.

People of all stripes are rebelling against those systems and organizations that keep us downtrodden. They are rebelling against banks and corporations that have almost complete control over our country and that pursue global empire. They are rebelling against those forces that have made a mockery of the democratic process and make our lives so much harder to lead. They are rebelling against those institution to revolutionize this world and make it fully equitable. They are gathering and participating in a revolution that is consensus based with voices for all.  This is a grass-roots movement at its finest.

More importantly, however, is its effectiveness and the reaction it is eliciting from mainstream America. For almost the first week of the Occupation, there was a total media black out. None of the major news networks were running the story and even now, 13 days into it, very few are talking about it. This blackout speaks volumes because who owns the major news networks? They know that the revolution is starting and they are hoping that a media blackout will stall us. It seems that that is not the case. Not only that but its interesting to note that those same news stations were quick to speak on the populist revolutions in other countries like Egypt. They were quick to applaud those people who were throwing off the shackles of tyranny and creating for themselves the country that they envision. A country that they created on their own terms. The hypocrisy is galling.

The other thing that is very interesting is the police response to non-violent protestors. I’m sure many of you have seen the videos, and if you haven’t please go here, of a white collar police officer macing a group of protestors at point black range. Not only that but there were over 80 arrests that day, most of which were overly aggressive. There are photos and videos of folks being slammed against the ground, of getting dragged into the middle of the street by the hair, and one instance of someone being arrested merely for having a professional camera.

On last thing to note is how this movement reflects in many ways the movement here at Out Youth to change things. Young people and community members are using consensus-based decision making and grassroots organizing to revolutionize how Out Youth is run and to change the dynamic to put the power back in the hands of the young people. Like those at Wall Street, we are trying to revolutionize the systems so that they work for us and not keep us oppressed.

For the first time since the 60s, people are mobilizing and saying enough is enough. And its happening everywhere. I would encourage all of my readers to join their city’s Occupy movement so that we can change this world to make it a fully equitable place. It is going to take all of us working together in solidarity to revolutionize this world. And we will succeed.

We are too big to fail.


Post the Twentieth or On Understanding Intersectionality

I went to an Out Youth event last night and it was fucking amazing. There were many amazingly talented young queers and a warm fuzzy sense of community. It showed me once again why it is that I do what I do. It reaffirmed my belief that inspiring queer youth voices is life-saving and life-changing. And it was really nice to have everyone like my poem.

There was one problem, however. Well, there were two problems but I’m only going to go into one of them. That problem was the emcee. The emcee was a gay white man, and from what I could tell he was middle-upper class. This emcee, who’s name escapes me at the moment, made two comments that really bothered many of us, and he was mis-pronouning our trans youth left and right. The first comment went something like this:

Performer:”This song is about a chicken.”

Emcee: “Is it a Chinese chicken? You know, like chickity china the Chinese chicken?”

And the second comment went something like this:

Emcee: “Just a shameless plug for my event blah blah blah which happens at this place on the east side. Its on the corner of 7th and homeless! No really, the ARCH center is right down the street.”

At that point, I had had enough of this guy so I booed him and told him that the “homeless” comment was not okay. Those two “jokes” were inappropriate because they were racist and classist. Moreover, the audience was mostly queers and a lot of them queer people of color. Homelessness and poverty effect queer young people, and queer young people of color more strongly than their white and straight/cisgender counterparts. That makes the comment even worse because some of the young people there that night have been, or are presently affected by, homelessness and poverty – either because they were kicked out of their homes for being queer or trans, or because they were raised in impoverished neighborhoods.

The other comment is also problematic because of the way it objectifies and dehumanizes Chinese folks, and, by extension, all folks of color. It exotizes Chinese people, which, in turn, perpetuates the exotification of different cultures and all people of color.

This behavior is endemic to the gay white male community. The reason for this is that since they are gay, they think that they are an oppressed group. And rightfully so because gay people are oppressed. However, the problem lays in the fact that because of their gay identity, most of them fail to understand that they still possess a whole hell of a lot of privilege. They still have the privilege that comes with being white and being male. And since they don’t examine their privilege, they think it’s cool to make racist and classist comments; not to mention giving transfolk all kinds of shit from mis-prouning to invalidating their identities.

This, then, is where intersectionality comes in. By understanding that the multiple identities we hold can afford us different privileges, or subject us to different forms oppression, we can see how they interact to keep each other in place. Let me make one thing clear: this is not about comparing dick sizes. This isn’t about seeing who can win “the Most Oppressed Game.” This is about understanding the realities of the world we live in and how different forms of power and oppression work together to keep them in place. It is about how we all contribute to the status quo in one way or another. And by achieving that understanding we can attack those systems that keep us all oppressed.

Another thing that I think must be understood is that the emcee in question is a product of our society. He can, of course, go through the transformative process necessary to fight against these systems, but it would be very difficult to do that on his own. I don’t write this as a personal attack to anyone. In fact, nothing that I write should be seen as an attack. Rather, it should be seen as a critical call to action for all of us so that we can continue to grow and, in the process, save lives.

Understanding and dismantling power and privilege is something that needs to be done everyday. It is something that needs to happen if we are going to change this world for the better. This is especially true of ourselves. We need to understand our own privilege and how it manifests in order to dismantle power.

We need to understand that we are all in this together.


Post the Eighteenth or Dismantling Power Part II

In my previous post, I wrote about my experiences at Pride and how they were lessons in power. I mentioned that there was another intimate instance this week about power and it was at the Out Youth board meeting.

The board meeting was a badass example of community organizing. We flooded the meeting with our thoughts, our voices and our hearts. Young people and adults alike stood up bravely and spoke on behalf of the family as well as the organization. It was moving in many ways, not the least of which because I was social justice orgasming left and right.

At one point, people began to talk over each other and the board was attempting to take control of our meeting when Gabi raised her voice and passionately declared the types of strategies that everyone should be thinking about and basically calling them inept. She shouted down the board as well as the community members who were clamoring to be heard. It was an awe inspiring sight to see. It felt like Gabi was speaking with all our voices.

The board responded in turn by saying that they felt that they had been abused. Which is interesting to me because being abused seems to me to involve a lack of power. If you are abused you are generally disempowered and yet the board are very clearly empowered. They are the ones who wield all the legal power at Out Youth. Moreover, those community members who were there felt that Gabi’s action was appropriate and righteous.

But that’s the nature of power. If you have it, it allows you to ignore it. It allows you to not see it because by its very nature power is subtle.

Not only does the Board of Directors have legal power and privilege they also have adult power and privilege. So when they have the audacity to say that they feel abused I can’t help but react negatively. Not only because they can’t really be abused but also because they, and the institution they represent, have inflicted abuse on those without power for years by not listening and by making decisions that are not in the best interest of our community.

So the next time you are upset at a young person passionately voicing their feelings remember that we are all a product of the world we live in.


Post the Fifteenth or Why Youth Empowerment is Important

Empowerment is defined as “increasing the spiritual, political, social, or economic strength of individuals and communities”. Youth Empowerment, than, would specifically be the act of increasing the spiritual, political, social, and economic strength of young people. This can take a myriad different forms. From informal conversations on agism and adultism to formal workshops on how young people (and older people) are subject to subtle forms of oppression. It can take the form of skill sharing and providing free counseling services to engaging young people to become leaders in their community.

Another aspect of youth empowerment that is important to address is the intersectionality of identity and that empowering young people also means empowering the different parts of their identity. It is critical that we empower not only young people but also queer young people and young people of color. It is vital that we understand that empowering young people of color will look different then empowering white young people because of the history of oppression that surrounds people of color. We need to be aware that young people are not a monolith and that every young person needs something different in order to succeed.

Finally, its important to recognize that young people are the experts are their own experience. Its important to recognize that they are fully capable, intelligent people who need to be met at their level. Youth empowerment doesn’t work with the attitude of “I want to give them what I didn’t have.” This attitude doesn’t work because it just reinforces the paternalistic and adultist assumption that young people don’t know what they want or what is good for them. If we are to successfully empower young people we need enter with the attitude of ignorance and ask what they need and how we can help them. We need to admit that we don’t know what they need and ask.

In a lot of ways, educators and teachers are one of the principle providers of youth empowerment. Speaking from experience, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for several teachers that I met in high school and college. I wouldn’t have the skills and be as self-possessed as I am today were it not for the months and years I spent outside of class learning from my teachers, specifically my ninth grade biology teacher Robyn Moore. Her story and the story we share is for another post but suffice to say that I owe much of what I am to her.

Which is why I was appalled when I read this Color Lines article. The article details, in case you don’t want to read it, that a white first grade teacher (who teaches in a school of mostly Black and Latino/a students) posted on Facebook that she was “not a teacher – i’m a warden for future criminals”. This is reprehensible for so many reasons. Not the least of which that it criminalizes not only being a person of color but also being a young person. By automatically assuming that young people of color are going to grow up to be criminals you are condemning them to the cycle that keeps everyone oppressed. Young people of color need to be trusted and inspired to break beyond that cycle. Telling them, overtly or covertly, that they will only grow up to be criminals does not help.

This type of behavior speaks to the pandemic and endemic nature of the school-to-prison pipeline. It is spread by schools with limited resources to educate and inspire students which in turn creates apathy and listlessness among the students which in turn discourages the educators and makes them jaded and bitter. That in turn feeds the cycle of violence and students act out and are punished unfairly for it. Young people are imprisoned and killed because of this cycle. Of course there are educators here and there that fight against that, like Ms. Moore, but it is clearly not enough.

This is why places like Out Youth are so important. Not only because it gives young people a safe place to be but also because it empowers young people to be themselves and break out of the cycle of violence. Obviously Out Youth has a lot of work to do in that regard but the very fact that it exists is much better then not. It shows them that they don’t have to wait until adulthood to achieve their dreams.

In conclusion,Youth empowerment is important because it saves lives.

And if we are going to change this world for the better we need to let young people know that they not the future, they are the present. They are the change that they want to see today.


Post the Fourteenth or Why Consensus Decision Making is Better

con·sen·sus

[kuhn-sen-suhs]

noun, plural -sus·es.

1.majority of opinion
2.general agreement or concord; harmony.

The Consensus Decision Making process is one in which everyone involved is equal and has equal voice. Every voice is heard and every angle is considered. Consensus is not majority rules. It is a process in which all people agree on a course of action. There is compromise and agreement so that all individuals are satisfied. True consensus takes into account all historical factors of racial, queer, class, agist and ableist oppression and addresses that history so that the process is truly egalitarian.

My dream is that all organizations and decisions that involve communities are reached using this process. My dream is that through this process we can finally make decisions for ourselves and our community. My dream is that we can truly empower ourselves to not only advocate for ourselves but also to take action ourselves and for ourselves. My dream is as we embrace consensus we can create a truly equitable world.

As many of you know Out Youth is in a state of civil war due to the abrupt and painful termination of one of the most beloved members of the Out Youth Family. This was done without our consent and without us being consulted. It was done brutally and without compassion. I think the biggest reason for this is the agist, ableist, classist, and racist nature of the non-profit industrial complex. The organization is structured in such a way that the Board of Directors have absolute governing power, they make and change policy and budget without any accountability to the community they serve. Moreover, they elect themselves. They are self-perpetuating. Sounds a lot like an authoritarian oligarchy to me.

The Board of Directors does not take into account the thoughts, opinions and experiences of the youth, staff, interns and other volunteers. The reason for this is the subtle forms of power that they have and the very overt forms of oppression that they wield. Because they are adults, have class privilege (since you need to be able to either give or raise $1000), are mostly white and are mostly able-bodied they can write off or ignore the subtle ways they oppress the community they serve. For example, they have their board meetings at a location that isn’t Out Youth, they have it at a location that isn’t accessible and most of all they don’t make it a point to recruit and let everyone know where and when the meetings are.

The most obvious way, however, is that in order to be a part of the Board, in order to have a vote, in order to have any say in the direction of Out Youth, you have to be able to contribute monetarily. In order to be a part of the Board, you need to pay. And that makes it inaccessible not only to young people (which they serve) but also a whole slew of other people who can’t afford to pay. It says to young people that their thoughts, opinions, experiences and voices are of no consequence.

And their privilege allows them to not see ANY of that.

Which is why I think it is so important to introduce and inform them of consensus. I think that the first step in making Out Youth sustainable is to incorporate the process of consensus in all decision making processes. From the budget to programming to who gets hired to who gets fired. By keeping focus on consensus we can all get adequate representation and it keeps things like this from occurring. It will prevent organizations, families and people from being ripped apart by disagreement and ineffective leadership because it puts power in the hands of everyone. If we share power than no one is left out in the cold.

Moreover, it would check and inform folks with privilege of their privilege and lead to a more equitable world.

It has to start with us.


Post the Thirteenth or The Call for Letters

The following is a Call for Letters to go to the Out Youth Board of Directors to let them know how we feel and what we want.

We, the members of the Out Youth Family, are calling out for letters from youth, staff, interns, volunteers, donors, friends, and all other members that identify with this family and this community and believe in this mission to be presented to the Board of Out Youth at the next board meeting on September 12th.

In light of the decision to eliminate the programing director’s position, members of the Out Youth family are feeling hurt and betrayed by the board and upset that the voices of the staff, youth, and community were not brought to the table to make a decision of such magnitude that affects every aspect of the organization. The elimination of this position without notice means that programming and the services offered to the queer/trans youth of Austin will suffer, and the ability to manage interns and volunteers will decrease significantly because there was no time for such tasks to be handed off and delegated. Furthermore, it has been a part of Out Youth’s history and culture to not only be given fair notice of a member’s departure, but also to host a celebration of their achievements, contributions, and overall experience with this organization. Lisa Rogers was not given fair notice of her time at Out Youth coming to an end and the community was not given any chance to say goodbye or wish her well on her next endeavors.
Beyond this decision, members of this community are feeling aggravation over the lack of transparency around the board, a lack of financial responsibility to the organization, and an overall lack of competency. We are calling for:

  • complete restructuring of the board that will include youth positions on the board and advisory council
  • a restructuring of the current bylaws
  • meeting minutes and budget proposals be sent out and made public to all members of the organization
  • all board members be current donors to the organization and held accountable for meeting fundraising deadlines
  • autonomy of the Executive Director on matters of staffing and staff positions,
  • mandatory and regular training for all board members
  • the resignation of the board chair Aubrey Wilkerson

We are asking for letters of solidarity and support to deliver to the board concerning these issues. Please feel free to contribute personal stories, your own feelings about the matter , and what you wish to see in the future from the board of Out Youth.

Email letters to: Ginger Yachinich at lovegingi@gmail.com
Physical copies to Ginger or Tameika Hannah or Morgan Collado.

We are also asking that folks post videos of themselves reading their letters to the Out Youth Family or the Out Youth facebook wall.