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By Thomas Hudson, Policy Associate for LGBTQ Equality
Recently, the Biden Foundation partnered with CASA Ruby to hold a youth roundtable as part of our “As You Are” family and community acceptance campaign. CASA Ruby is a trusted, effective, and innovative local community-based LGBTQ youth-serving organization that provides direct services to primarily transgender, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary young adults. Convening a conversation with a group of 18- to 24-year-olds from Casa Ruby provided valuable insight that will help the Biden Foundation work to change the culture and increase equity and inclusion in programs, services, systems, and communities for LGBTQ young people across the country.
When asked to define discrimination, several in the group shared their belief that discrimination is rooted not only in a miseducation about who they are, but that a general bias towards the LGBTQ+ community and communities of color also exists. Several participants talked of their experiences with discrimination during job interviews, in school, and in the general public. One young transgender woman shared, “I faced discrimination in prison. I was denied hormones, medical services that I needed for my transition, I was also placed in a men’s cell, and continually mis-gendered by the staff.”
When already vulnerable young people have to constantly defend their right to exist, the challenges they face often feel insurmountable. When asked what they feel is the biggest challenge they face, one participant answered, “Being black.” He said, “Being black in today’s society feels like we are the villains of everything. It’s like everywhere I go people treat me like I am nobody.”
Despite their everyday challenges, when asked what advice they would give to other young queer people of color in similar situations, they had nothing but love and encouragement to offer. “I would tell young people to keep their head up, stay positive, and ignore the negative comments.” When asked how we could bring change to their community they shared, “We can change the culture by holding each other accountable. Taking a stand and not being afraid to call people on their bias.”
One of the most telling themes to come across in the discussion was that of positive role modeling. One participant summed it up best when they said, “If we see someone else thriving then we are gonna want to thrive, too. When I first met Ruby, I knew that I wanted to do what she does. This lady didn’t know me, yet she went out of her way to make me feel welcomed and loved.”
Centers like CASA Ruby give LGBTQ+ youth a second chance, welcoming them into a community of love, of visibility, of acceptance. They allow them to come as they are and grow into who they are meant to be. There are staff from the center who transitioned from the program and are now giving back to others. This is what resilience looks like, this is what it means to truly change the culture, to make an impact, and to move the needle forward in this work.
Stories have power, and the stories from our friends at CASA Ruby are one of a kind. While no one story is the same, we encourage you to visit our As You Are Story map and share your story with us.
Thomas Hudson is the policy associate for Ensuring LGBTQ Equality at the Biden Foundation.