Someone To Look Up To

By Liz Massey, November 2017 Issue.

As part of LGBTQ History Month, Echo Magazine will induct another class of community leaders into its Hall of Fame. More than just measuring fame, this recognition amounts to a “hall of honor,” an award acknowledging civic achievement.

One thing is certain: it’s not just a “hall of popularity.” Nominees for the Hall of Fame are carefully vetted, researched and examined in terms of their contributions to Arizona’s various LGBTQ communities.

As the roster of Echo’s Hall of Fame has expanded, the list has become a valuable resource – a library of stories about people who have found unique ways to build up other LGBTQ community members, our allies and Arizona’s metropolitan areas as a whole.

The fact that Arizona now has a sizeable LGBTQ Hall of Fame demonstrates how our community continues to mature socially. One of the drivers of this phenomenon has been our visibility since the time of Stonewall; once we were able to find each other, it was exponentially easier to organize, support, advocate for and liberate one another.

There’s a reason all anti-queer legislation aims to drive us back into the closet. When we are isolated and conflicted, we are powerless. Organize our colorful, vibrant tribe and we are an unstoppable equality force.

Our community needs mentors and heroes like those found in the Hall of Fame because that sort of generative, reciprocal behavior builds a stronger movement. It balances our newfound abilities to succeed as out and proud individuals with the knowledge that this wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of those who faced down a hostile social and political environment to make life better for all LGBTQ people who came after them.

There’s an old African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” And we HAVE come a long way. Some of our local youth support organizations have been in place for nearly 25 years. Support groups exist for every situation, from coping with HIV to building a rainbow family, and we have a variety of queer professional groups to advance career development.

Of course, even with the amount of progress we’ve made here in Arizona, much remains to be done. Transgender discrimination is widespread and troubling; far too many queer youth risk homelessness when they come out to unaccepting families; and the current presidential administration has made it clear that they are no friend of the LGBTQ community.

The beautiful thing about mentoring is that it doesn’t require an enormous investment of time or money to make a difference. Providing a young LGBTQ protégée with survival tips and guidance can literally save lives, in some cases. Mentoring builds equity in our community, so more people enter it ready to contribute. And there are benefits for mentors, too; mentoring provides a channel for skilled individuals to share their gifts, and it provides them with a chance to honor those who made success possible for them.

There are many ways to be a mentor, including …

  • Expanding someone’s access to the community.

Introduce your protégée to your network and expand their social horizons.

  • Becoming a teacher.

Whether it’s sharing professional development advice or life hacks for becoming a more effective activist, your “how-to” knowledge can be extremely valuable.

  • Telling the stories of your LGBTQ life.

Hearing how you handled your life challenges can help others generate ideas for resolving their own issues.

  • Championing the whole family.

Our newly out youth need support and role models, but so do their parents, siblings and other relatives, if they are to become effective allies.

  • Encouraging self-advocacy.

Helping a protégée help themselves is the ultimate goal of all mentorship. Mentors can help by listening, discussing options and coaching apprentices through new behaviors.

The novelist James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” We must be intentional about what sort of example we set as members of the LGBTQ community, because we never can be completely sure of who is going find our behavior worthy of repeating.

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