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LYRIC celebrates 30 years helping queer youth

by Tony Taylor

Natalia Vigil, LYRIC communications and development manager, left, and Jodi Schwartz, LYRIC executive director, welcome people to the organization's 30th anniversary open house next week. Photo: Courtesy LYRIC
Natalia Vigil, LYRIC communications and development manager, left, and Jodi Schwartz, LYRIC executive director, welcome people to the organization's 30th anniversary open house next week. Photo: Courtesy LYRIC  

For the only time this year, doors to the purple house on Castro's Collingwood Street will be open to the public as the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center celebrates 30 years. On Thursday, April 26, community members are invited to "Unity is Resilience," an event conceptualized by 17 LYRIC youth interns.

At the open house, attendees can explore two floors of art galleries created by youth, guided tours of the building that introduce LYRIC's history and current work, interactive activities, and the premieres of two LYRIC youth videos. A formal program will honor alumni that have continued their commitment to the LYRIC community and LGBTQQ youth.

LYRIC youth and staff host dances each year to build community and celebrate being queer and trans. This milestone year, attendees can expect historical nods to the center's very first dance.

In 1988, the program that would later become LYRIC emerged from the shared vision of Donna Keiko Ozawa and Beth Kivel, who started an ad-hoc Committee for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth.

According to LYRIC's website, when Ruth Hughes from the old Center for Special Problems offered a space for the committee to convene, a celebratory dance was held in October 1988 at the Women's Building. Forty youth attended the dance and at least 20 adults were there to support the event.

Building on the momentum of the dance, a community meeting was held in January 1989 and, within six months, the committee had a name, Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, and a collective structure. The founders partnered with adult advocates to define the organization's goals, obtain resources, and start programming and advocacy work.

In 1993, LYRIC completed the purchase of 127 Collingwood Street to house its services.

Natalia Vigil, LYRIC's communications and development manager, invites those interested to come see the organization's youth development model in practice.

"The youth performances, artwork, videos, and more are all a testament to our youth development model and collaborations with others integral to supporting LGBTQQ youth," Vigil, who identifies as queer, wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter.

When asked what advances she has seen with the city offering enough available housing and competent services to LGBTQQ youth, Vigil said she's seen progress, "but [there's] much more to go."
In 2016, the city passed legislation requiring the collection of data on sexual orientation and gender identity from all city departments and city-funded agencies that provide health care and social services.

"[That was] a critical step to lifting LGBTQQ youth out of invisibility," Vigil said.

While LGBTQQ youth were named a priority population in the city's fiscal year 18/19 - 22/23 Children and Youth Fund's Services Allocation Plan, Vigil said that LYRIC has seen a rise in the level of homelessness and unstable housing status among its participants.

"[It's increased] from 39 percent in FY 12/13 to 56 percent in FY 14/15 to 68 percent in FY16/17," Vigil said. "Heartbreakingly, [there are] high levels of experiences of violence in 97 percent of the youth who walk through our doors."

LYRIC, which operates on a budget of about $2 million, works with other advocates to support their most marginalized communities, including the primarily low-income LGBTQQ youth community they support.

Vigil said they encourage adults in the community to act as allies to youth by supporting city budget and neighborhood resource priorities set by the young people. Priorities include more youth-specific safe and accessible housing, more opportunities for leadership and workforce development, better access to culturally competent mental health services, and less policing of open space.

JoJo, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, is one of 10 LYRIC fellows who will emcee at the open house. According to a statement they wrote, their journey at LYRIC started the year after they dropped out of high school.

"I was hesitant to go to LYRIC because I was scared," JoJo, who uses only one name, wrote in the statement. "Growing up, I always thought I should be ashamed of my identity and not be proud of it. What if the people [at LYRIC] did not like me? What if I did not fit into their community? Those fears and self-doubt completely vanished as soon as I came through their purple door."

JoJo wrote that their experience at LYRIC taught them what it means to have pride as a queer, gender nonconforming person of color. They are now confident stepping into leadership roles and have become a LYRIC fellow.


The purple house on Collingwood Street is the longtime home of the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, which will have a public open house next week. Photo: Tony Taylor  

"I was hesitant to go to LYRIC because I was scared," JoJo, who uses only one name, wrote in the statement. "Growing up, I always thought I should be ashamed of my identity and not be proud of it. What if the people [at LYRIC] did not like me? What if I did not fit into their community? Those fears and self-doubt completely vanished as soon as I came through their purple door."
JoJo wrote that their experience at LYRIC taught them what it means to have pride as a queer, gender nonconforming person of color. They are now confident stepping into leadership roles and have become a LYRIC fellow.
Launched in January 2017, the LYRIC Fellowship is a paid, two-year program for trans and gender nonconforming youth leaders ages 18 to 24. Fellows foster their leadership through five key components: youth advocacy, rites of passage, work readiness, educational support services, and policy and advocacy.
"Youth like me are the leaders of tomorrow and our experiences and knowledge can be used to shape a better future," JoJo added. "You can continue to empower LGBTQQ youth to have self-acceptance and pride just like me."
Vigil said the community can also contribute by referring youth to the agency, hosting beneficiary events for LYRIC, donating, or being a sponsor for the upcoming open house.
Many of the organization's collaborative partners will be present at the open house. Expected to be on hand are representatives from Dimensions Clinic, which LYRIC co-founded and helps connect LGBTQ youth to primary care; the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, which partners with LYRIC to ensure youth have access to PrEP and other HIV prevention; and the Women's Building, which has been a welcoming host for the youth dances.
Looking forward to the next 30 years for LYRIC, Vigil said the organization plans to continue building community and inspiring social change with LGBTQQ youth.
"Our goals are to continue youth advocacy, community building, workforce development, and ensure a strong and diverse leadership pipeline for the future of our community for generations to come," she wrote.

LYRIC's 30th anniversary open house takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at 127 Collingwood Street. Refreshments will be catered by Slurp Noodle Bar. For more information about LYRIC, or to donate, visit http://www.lyric.org.


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