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As part of its 12th annual celebration, the Youth Pride Alliance is honoring three allies who have contributed to the well-being and growth of GLBTQ youth: Allied in Pride, Pat Corbett and Darby Hickey.
These allies will be recognized for their contributions at a special reception in their honor Friday, April 25, at the Toutorsky Mansion, 1720 16th St. NW, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. This event is for attendees 21 and over.
Allied in Pride
Michael Komo almost turned down George Washington University’s admission offer upon discovering that the campus did not have an official GLBT resource center.
”I felt like, how could I ever get help if I needed it?” the 19-year-old native of Erie, Pa., recalls. ”Then I realized it’s kind of my responsibility to make sure [GWU does] get one. So I figured it would be better for me to go somewhere where there isn’t one, and create one, rather than just go somewhere where there already is one.”
Komo, a freshman studying political science, joined Allied in Pride, GWU’s grassroots GLBT student organization. That group is currently pushing to get a university-sanctioned resource center for GLBT students opened on campus.
”I’ve gone around to literally hundreds of students — if not thousands — to get their support and have them sign a petition for an LGBTQ resource center,” Komo says. ”I’ve met with countless administrators, deans, faculty members, advisors, and sought out their support as well.”
The social aspect of Allied in Pride, including movie nights, parties and other events like the drag ball, are balanced out by more serious affairs.
”We do everything from social events…to very serious advocacy work, like the marriage-equality weekend.”
The group organized marriage-equality events around Valentine’s Day this year to bring awareness to the thousands of federal rights same-sex couples are denied by not being able to marry.
”I feel like I’m really making a difference,” says Komo. ”Even if I change one person’s mind or one person’s opinion about the work that I do, then it’s worth it.”
Allied in Pride recently donated $430 to the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), raised from their Glitter Drag Ball in March. That’s one of the reasons Allied in Pride is being honored as a Youth Pride Alliance Ally.
”They have done an amazing job at outreaching outside of their campus,” says Youth Pride Alliance President Tyrone Hanley. ”We really wanted to recognize them not only for [the SMYAL fundraiser], but also because they are young people advocating for young people.”
Amy Dorfman, a 21-year-old junior studying human resources, is among those young people. She serves as Allied in Pride’s advocacy co-chair.
”I’m straight, but I identify as queer in the way that I live my life and have been involved,” she says. ”I’m Jewish, so social justice work is just part of what I do.”
All of Allied in Pride’s events are open to the general public, gay or straight, student or otherwise, she adds.
To new students, Dorfman suggests: ”Get involved in as many student organizations as possible.”
”I am a black woman, a mother, a teacher, a writer, a poet, a minister, a friend, an activist, an advocate, a sister, a daughter and I am gay.”
Pat Corbett wrote those words in an open letter to her sorority sisters of Delta Sigma Theta some 20 years after joining. It was her way of belatedly responding to two sorority members who had pulled her aside so many years ago, asking for assurances that she was not a lesbian. But she was.
Upon coming out to her parents, so many years ago, the reception wasn’t any better.
”It was difficult,” she remembers. ”My dad’s a Southern Baptist minister and my mom’s a teacher. Initially, they weren’t very accepting at all. But because I refuse to hide my identity, over time, they accepted it.”
In a sense, Corbett now enjoys the chance to go back in time and be the advocate for youth that she never had. That advocacy is what led to her being honored this year by the Youth Pride Alliance.
Corbett’s particular brand of advocacy is carried out largely through her posts as the ”Safe Schools coordinator” and the program-outreach coordinator at Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Area, otherwise knows as Metro D.C. PFLAG. One component of this work finds Corbett spending every Tuesday back in high school, rotating lunch conversations between kids at the District’s Roosevelt Senior High School, in Petworth, or Woodson High School, a few blocks from the District’s easternmost corner.
”They’re not all LGBT youth,” Corbett says of the roughly 35 kids she meets with. ”It’s also allies, and there are many allies in both schools. It’s extremely encouraging to see them express that support for their friends.”
But while Corbett notes that the schools have come a long way, and that gay kids at both Roosevelt and Woodson report relatively accepting environments, it’s the time spent outside of school she worries about.
”I’m more fearful when they leave the schools. I have several kids who are not accepted by their families. Some have high-risk behavior. We have [the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League Youth Center], but there’s definitely a need for more [after school/weekend] programming in the District. There are some problems in the schools, but a bigger problem in finding safe spaces after school and on weekends.”
As Corbett continues to do her part to possibly make those safe spaces a reality, to advocate for GLBT youth, and to lead by her own, irrepressibly out example, she admits that the strength to move forward does not come entirely from within, but also from recognition like this one from the Youth Pride Alliance.
”I’m totally honored. It’s very, very humbling to be recognized for something you’re passionate about.”
For more information about Metro DC PFLAG, visit www.pflagdc.org.
For local activist Darby Hickey, finding self-acceptance as a transgender woman didn’t happen overnight. It was, she says, a ”slow process.”
”It [took] meeting a couple of transgender people, talking with them, reading some books, attending events and realizing that that’s what I was feeling.”
But finding that self-acceptance has led Hickey to work that may help others find it, too. Today she works as the co-director of Different Avenues, an organization that works to provide housing to GLBT people, between the ages of 12 and 30, who are homeless or who live in insecure housing and often have to resort to ”street survival strategies,” such as sex work.
Before settling down in Washington in 2001, the 29-year-old native of Maine, who also serves on the board of Transgender Health Empowerment (THE), lived briefly in Baltimore, New Orleans, and abroad — studying in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Jerusalem. Whatever lack of creature comforts she may have encountered in her travels, if any, her Maine upbringing did a good job preparing her, living in a cabin in the woods with no electricity.
”We had oil lamps and a wood stove,” she says. ”You’d heat up the water on the stove to wash the dishes. That was a pretty common experience throughout my whole childhood.”
Hickey was 15 when her mom installed a solar panel and used its power to turn on a lamp.
”I remember being like, ‘Wow, that electric light is so much brighter than an oil lamp.”’
Much like that realization, it wasn’t until Hickey left her native Maine for Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to study English, that she was finally exposed to language she could use to describe how she was feeling inside.
”I had never had any access to any information, or met anyone who was transgender,” Hickey shares. ”I thought: ‘I actually like both boys and girls, maybe I’m bisexual. But that doesn’t seem to get at the issue, which is that it’s something about how I feel about myself.”’
Still, by 2003, after coming out as transgender, Hickey faced more challenges.
”I was having a very difficult time finding a job because of being transgender, and I was experiencing a lot of depression because of that.”
At the time, Hickey was looking for mental-health support and found it extremely difficult to find any resource offering counseling that was both ”aware and sensitive” of transgender issues, and free.
Then she discovered Different Avenues at a community event about transgender issues in the summer of 2003. She first became a client, then applied for an entry-level position with the organization for a drop-in center coordinator.
”I applied and I got it,” she says, and that was the beginning of her work at Different Avenues.
”You’ve got to believe in yourself. I know that everyone — maybe especially transgender people — we have voices inside of our heads that tell us we’re worthless, or that we’re ugly or freaks or gross or whatever. I know it’s a voice that I still struggle with every day. But you just have to keep fighting back against it and finding ways to get support.”
Whether it’s turning to friends, family, or organizations like Different Avenues, Hickey urges transgender youth to find ”things that fulfill you and make you happy to be alive.”
For more information about Different Avenues, visit www.differentavenues.org.