October Declared LGBTQ Youth Empowerment Month in New York City
MUNICIPAL DISTRICT — Following weeks of highly publicized anti-gay hate crimes and suicides by gay youth, young LGBTQ New Yorkers got some good news Thursday afternoon.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a proclamation making October LGBTQ Youth Empowerment Month in New York City. Advocacy groups including FIERCE, which serves LGBTQ youth of color, hope this move will help shift public attention toward creating more preventative resources.
"Oh my God I’m so overjoyed, I’m so shocked and overjoyed," said Veronica Tirado, an 18-year-old FIERCE member and Harlem resident who read a poem during the celebratory rally, held on the steps of City Hall.
"I feel like a lot of people haven’t been paying attention to LGBTQ issues… but we all know that this happens all the time."
In addition to receiving Bloomberg’s support, the empowerment month received endorsements from local politicians including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and State Senator Tom Duane.
"We’re never going to let anybody put us down," City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who came out as an openly gay teacher in 1992, said at the rally. "It is extremely important today that we take back our lives."
Although recent suicides and anti-gay attacks including those at the Stonewall Inn, Julius’ Bar and on a Chelsea intersection have brought LGBTQ issues to the forefront of local politics, many gay and lesbian New Yorkers say that incidents like these occur everday, and typically garner little attention.
"We need to be safe in all our neighborhoods," said Karina Claudio, a 26-year-old involved with Brooklyn-based organization Make the Road New York. "For me personally, I feel that it shouldn’t have taken deaths for this to be addressed."
Specific measures that advocacy groups would like to see taken include the creation of anti-homophobia school curriculums and more safe havens in the form of afterschool centers and shelters for teen runaways.
Chelsea-based FIERCE is working to set up a 24-hour LGBTQ youth center, as well as a social space at Pier 40.
One teen at the rally, Michelle Riddle, 19, said she fled homophobia in her hometown of Mobile, Ala., for New York in August 2009. Now homeless and living in a shelter in Brooklyn, Riddle said she has tried to kill herself on a dozen different occasions.
"It just motivates me more to work with FIERCE — we’re trying to create a safe haven where we can be ourselves," she said. "We’re not a goddamned disease, we’re not perfect, God gives us that. But we’re still humans."
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