Empowering the next generation

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Tuesday June 19, 2007
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In an effort to build community, there are many innovative opportunities for LGBT adults to connect with queer youth to instill a sense of history and hope for the future.

One such program, the Intergenerational Storytelling Project, a collaboration between the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, New Leaf: Services for Our Community, and outLoud Radio Project, is in its second year. The project brings together eight queer and straight ally youth ages 23 and under with LGBT seniors to record their stories for radio and Web broadcasting on outLoud Radio, a queer youth radio project.

LYRIC Executive Director Jodi Schwartz's goal with the project was to "ensure LYRIC is a part of the solution to provide leaders for the next generation."

The project is through LYRIC's internship program, which places an estimated 75 queer and straight youths annually. The youths choose from a variety of local nonprofit organizations based upon their interests and are paid minimum wage. The program operates on an annual budget of $65,000, which is funded by the Department of Children Youth and Families and the Private Industry Council.

Schwartz told the Bay Area Reporter that the internship program was developed more as a partnership where the youths suggest, create, and choose projects and organizations that they are interested in.

Julie Gerare, 17, who identifies as straight, and out lesbian Natalie Spring, 18, both expressed the importance of learning history that isn't in their classroom text books.

Eleven seniors from New Leaf volunteered their time with the youths to share their stories. The seniors expressed isolation from youth and a lack of carrying on tradition, but the project provided an outlet for them to connect with the younger generation.

"There is no connection between older generations and young generations," said Marilyn "MJ" Isabell, 61, a black lesbian, who expressed that the youth "didn't have what they needed to continue tradition."

"There is a tradition of being gay," said Isabell.

Spring said that she felt it was important to have the connection and learn the history because she wanted guidance for taking action and making reforms in the future.

Cindy Pham, 17, who identifies as straight, edited the Intergenerational Storytelling Project interviews for outLoud Radio. She told the B.A.R. that she "had a blast" working on the project and felt like she was not only supporting her queer friends but the LGBT community.

"I found that I was very addicted to the program," said Pham. "I couldn't stop working on it and the final project made me very proud of what I've been doing."


The Lavender Scrolls Project, which was coordinated by Lavender Seniors of the East Bay and will be on display in the elder space at the San Francisco Pride celebration, is a similar project. The scrolls project was funded by a $75,000 matching grant from the California Council for Humanities through its California Story Fund Project. Lavender Seniors matched the grant with $15,000 from Bay Area photographer and personal historian Cathy Cade, who was the photographer on the project, and former Lavender Seniors outreach coordinator and graphic designer Christina Cappelletti, who designed the scrolls. The project received additional funding from the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

The project brought together 12 volunteers ranging from ages 24 to 60 to interview seven LGBT seniors and transcribe their stories to create six vinyl scrolls telling their stories through words and photographs, according to Cappelletti.

Jai DeLotto, 30, a genderqueer Lavender Seniors intern, told the B.A.R. that the project was important to him because he was able to interview a transgender man, Steve Toby, 66, who is a successful therapist. DeLotto saw in Toby a role model.

"It was very encouraging on a personal level," said DeLotto, who is transitioning from female to male and graduated this spring from San Francisco State University's graduate school of social work with a special emphasis on the LGBT community.

Outlet Program

Providing role models for queer youth is the reason the Outlet Program, a twice a month drop-in social mentoring program, was created in 1997, according to the Peninsula organization's Web site.

"We set it up so the youth ... who were not out to their parents would still have positive interaction with adults in the community," said Eileen Ross, assistant director of the program.

The $250,000 program is funded through county and community grants and is housed at the Community Health Awareness Council in Mountain View. It serves an estimated 3,000 people in the Bay Area a year, according to the program director Shannon Turk.

The program changed about six years ago from a one-on-one mentorship model to an informal group mentor model that consists of 25 to 30 LGBT adults between the ages of 24 to 60 who come from a variety of professions and backgrounds. The adults meet with four to 12 queer and straight allied youths twice a month, according to Ross. Youth focused events, such as movies, games, and other social activities, are set up to encourage a relaxed atmosphere so the youths can feel comfortable talking with the adults, Ross said.

Kermit Cuff, 49, a gay man who has participated in the program for nearly three years, found it through social groups in which he was involved. Cuff told the B.A.R. that he was searching for a mentor program for queer youth after the gay male youth he mentored from the age of 13 became independent during his early 20s. Cuff met the youth at a picnic for a gay group and helped him out of a rough lifestyle at the time. Now 26, the young man is attending graduate school, according to Cuff.

Cuff likes the informal aspect of the program because it's not as intense as the one-on-one mentorship relationship that he previously had.

"The biggest satisfaction you can get is to see the person you helped in a successful situation," said Cuff. "And ... wanting to help others now to do the same thing."

For more information about outLoud Radio Project and the broadcast of the Intergenerational Storytelling Project later this year, visit http://outloudradio.org/. For more information about the Lavender Scrolls, visit www.lavenderseniors.org. For more information about the Outlet Program, visit http://www.projectoutlet.org/.