The stories I hear from the youth in GNYN resonate with me intensely. I react to the stories of fear, isolation, and loneliness that youth express growing up gay in Nebraska because not so long ago, I was one of them. As an Omaha, Nebraska native who attended a tiny college-preparatory school, I could count the number of LGBT people I knew on two hands, and those my age on one. Though I excelled in academics, in extracurricular activities, and socially among peers, I had a good deal of trouble emotionally. While my high school friends enjoyed relationships, both serious and frivolous, I often felt lonely and isolated; I felt as if no one understood what I was going through. And despite my close friends’ and family members’ earnest attempts to understand certain issues I was facing, I yearned for a community that would understand and respond to my concerns without excessive explanation. I hated always being “different,” and desperately wanted a place to just “fit in.” I share this information not because I think it makes me unique; in fact, from countless discussions I’ve had with LGBT Nebraskan youth, these are common sentiments. This project blossomed out of a personal need, one which I know many others also harbor.
After my freshman year at Brown (2009-2010), I was struck by how much of an LGBT community existed on campus. It was unlike anything I had experienced until that point, and it very literally changed my life. Seeing people at Brown openly express their identities in such kaleidoscopic diversity allowed me to finally envision a future where I could be both gay and happy. After participating in a variety of groups my freshman year, I took up more leadership positions within the queer community at Brown, and today am heavily involved on campus. I serve as the Head Chair of the Queer Alliance, an umbrella student organization with about 15 active subgroups which serves as a hub for LGBT organizing on campus. I am also co-chairing the IvyQ 2012 conference, an annual pan-IvyQ queer conference which will be hosted at Brown in February for its third year, with an anticipated attendance of 500 students and over 30 renowned presenters.
I feel qualified to pursue this project because of my history with it, my demonstrated leadership ability, and also my coursework at Brown. As a Sociology and Gender & Sexuality Studies double-concentrator, many of my classes center upon the themes of identity formation and maintenance. Courses I’ve taken in Ethnic Studies and Religious Studies have helped me to understand how racial/ethnic and religious identities may intersect with non-normative sexual or gender identities. I also worked on a research team investigating the effects of socioeconomic status on students’ experiences of Brown, so I am fairly knowledgeable about the influence SES can have on young people.
I loved what I found at Brown, and I also loved my Midwestern home; returning from Brown after my freshman year, I believed that LGBT Nebraskan youth would actively desire and benefit from a large, visible youth community similar to that which I have found at Brown. With big aspirations and a few people to help me, I then created what I called the “Gay Nebraska Youth Network.” I am attached to this cause and think that it will be incredibly rewarding for me--not to mention the youth who have told me how much this group helps them--to be able to stay in Omaha this summer and build the GNYN into something that will last beyond my time as an undergraduate and continue beyond the Cornhusker State. I believed that this was important work in May of ’10, and I believe even more so now. Reading through members’ uniformly positive reviews of the GNYN has invigorated my commitment to this project proposal and fueled my belief that I can contribute to a better future for LGBT youth.