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Looking back at the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League‘s annual fall brunch event over the past several years, Betsey Pursell noticed something missing: women.
”It was 95 percent men,” says Pursell, SMYAL’s board chair. ”With LGBT youth, we don’t want to forget the ‘L’ part.”
Pursell, who works at the Human Rights Campaign as the vice president for public education and outreach, says she came up with an idea when talking to her partner about the lack of women at SMYAL. Her dream: to use the HRC Equality Center to stage a SMYAL event and ”bring in a lot of women.”
Her dream becomes reality on Wednesday, June 3, with ”Women for SMYAL,” a free event, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Equality Center at Rhode Island Avenue and 17th Street NW.
”The purpose of the event is to introduce and raise awareness about SMYAL’s work in the Washington women’s community,” she says. ”I would love to see the lesbian community in Washington embrace SMYAL as one of the things they care about and support, both financially and by doing volunteer work and just in getting the word out to the community about the work that SMYAL does.”
One thing the event is not, however, is a fundraiser.
”While my sights are set on raising support and awareness about SMYAL, it’s also an event that women can come to, to meet other women and network, and it’s not a bar. It will be a fun atmosphere with a lot of different folks there.”
That includes keynote speaker Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of HRC. While Pursell didn’t work at HRC during Birch’s time there, the two have worked together on an HRC youth initiative.
”I learned in the process of doing that work about her passion about LGBT youth, and her concerns about all of the struggles that they face,” Pursell says. ”So what more perfect person than someone who’s been a pioneer in the movement and who has this concern and passion and understanding?”
Other guests include Sally Baird, vice chair of the Arlington County School Board, Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur, and former D.C. Shadow Representative of the U.S. House of Representatives Sabrina Sojourner.
The event’s ”host committee,” is comprised of prominent locals including EbonÃ© Bell, Lynne Brown, Candace Gingrich, Colleen Dermody, JoAnn Kokindo, Margaret Murray and Michele Zavos.
The event is particularly important for Pursell, who says she didn’t have any lesbian role models while growing up.
”I had female role models, like teachers and whatnot, and famous people, but to be honest with you, I didn’t know any older lesbians. That explains why I think this is so important.”
Pursell notes that while the prominence of such famous lesbians as Ellen DeGeneres and Rachel Maddow has changed the cultural landscape for today’s young lesbians, it remains important to develop role models on the local level.
”It’s also good to know that there are everyday people who are successful and who have navigated the challenges and can serve as mentors and volunteers at the organization.”