More than a decade ago, the North Carolina Lambda Youth Network aimed to inspire real social change. They started in the LGBT community, particularly with teens, to deal with their issues and problems in terms of their own identity. But by the middle of the decade, this promising group had disappeared. What happened?
We don’t know. Sometimes we bet on a group and make a grant, provide training (in this case, we also sent a Peace Development Fund trainer to work with them, Tema Okun), and then the group members move on or the group disbands or merges with another. That’s part of the dynamic of grassroots organizing. Hopefully what they learned with PDF’s support has stood them in good stead for the rest of their careers.
Anyway, we’d love to know if that’s so!
from Peace Developments, Winter 2000
“Challenging Oppression from the Inside and OUT!”
When Zabrina Aleguire, outreach and education coordinator – one of the first young people hired to the North Carolina Lambda Youth Network staff – talks about the organization, her voice gets a lilt and it is clear that she is involved in something challenging and exciting. Her work is a calling, not unlike most of the people who believe that social justice is a lifetime commitment. She speaks for her peers from a place of strength when she says emphatically: “Young people really have amazing potential to be powerful social change agents. They have a lot of vision pragmatism, experience, and desire to learn. North Carolina Lambda Youth Network (NCLYN) is a youth-led organization with a vision, pragmatism, experience, and desire to learn.”
North Carolina Lambda Youth Network (NCLYN) is a youth-led organization with a vision and desire to see real social change, beginning with work with the youth in gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. Founded in July 1996, it is a grassroots organization with both a statewide and a local focus.
It is especially striking to note that these young people have come together under a variety of circumstances. They are intimately challenged not only with the task of working toward social justice, but also within a framework of identifying themselves in terms of their sexual and social orientation. This is not easy work, but movement building has been the focus from the beginning. There are those within LGBT communities who respond that the movement should focus on getting legal rights passed for LGBT people. Zabrina has a different take: It is incomplete to think only in one way. While homophobia is an issue, [oppression] isn’t just one issue. It is very linked.” She stresses that NCLYN works hard not to continue perpetuating the same oppressions of class, race, and gender that exist within the mainstream gay and lesbian movement.
Within the words that are poignant and idealistic, is also a passion that moves NCLYN to see real change happen through programs that create spaces for young people to make the vision real. A Drop-In night across the three cities that make up Raleigh-Durham, Chapel Hill triangle provides and opportunity for young people in the area to get to know one another. Soul Circle provides a network for people of color to talk about issues pertinent to their communities. The Rainbow Youth Coalition consists of educators, young people, and community members who are working to make schools a safe place for young people to learn,
Another important component is the continued learning within the network of a Summer Leadership Institute. Again, Zabrina lights up to share more about the institute. She speaks highly of the fact that real training on social justice issues takes place. It really moves her because it is almost completely volunteer run, and not very staff dependent. The facilitators for the workshops are previous graduates of the institute. Fifteen young people participate in the institute. They pick an organization within the Raleigh-Durham, Chapel Hill triangle to work on a social service project, like an elder center or daycare. After the project day ends, they come back to share some of what they are learning and try to place it in the context of organizing for social justice. There is a sense of intense training, of group bonding.
NCLYN is working with PDF’s Exchange Project to do dismantling racism workshops. It is their hope to be able to continue implementing concrete strategies that will help them become a truly antiracist organization. They are planning for their whole organization to go through training this summer with trainers for the EP.
They have had to cross some tough roads in committing to this process. Recently, the staff and board decided not to attend a particular workshop that is usually quite valuable. The workshop is a networking of LGBT students attending southern colleges. However, the conference is in South Carolina. NCLYN is standing with the NAACP, which has called for a boycott of the state, in protest of their refusal to take down the confederate flag over the statehouse. NCLYN plans to do a press release explaining why they are not attending the meeting.
Of course, there are other real and concrete challenges to this work. Many don’t believe that young people can be responsible to organize and lead movements. There is a sense that leadership doesn’t come until a certain “mystified” age. Many adults who are very supportive still can’t let go of their own assumptions about ways to approach difficult problems. Acknowledging that there are many things to learn is also not the easiest thing for the young people themselves. And finding funding is a significant issue; traditional foundations are not always willing to take chances on youth leadership, and it is especially challenging to get support in the south about LGBT issues in general.
Zabrina also shared that while there is some parental support, some parents, even those who know their kids are not heterosexual, feel powerless or unwilling to offer support to their children. However, these young people are not daunted. Matt Nicholson, one of the participants in the Summer Leadership Institute, put it this way: “Through NCLYN I have come to know myself and my community in new and challenging ways. I have learned how to make something happen. To implement. To empower. I now have access to information, networks, and relationships that keep me strong in the face of resistance. Queer is a part of a love, a politic and a passion by which I work for change. These people and this place keep folks like me alive, and we become dangerous to those who would hold us down.”
It is the power of this testimony that makes the work and the successes continue. Confidence is indeed a life force, and if this leadership is any indication of goals being achieved, we will all be hearing a lot more from North Carolina Lambda Youth Network.