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30 YEARS

OF SMYAL STORIES 1984–2014 30 YEARS OF SMYAL STORIES

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DEAR SMYAL FRIEND, When organizations like SMYAL are formed, they become the physical culmination of voices, ambitions, visions and passions that pull communities together. Spanning three decades, SMYAL is an intricate and diverse mosaic of individuals whose contributions to the organization we know today are only preserved through the retelling of stories. This book seeks to illustrate SMYAL’s unique and meaningful history by preserving the stories of SMYAL youth and individuals who together built the foundation on which SMYAL has grown over 30 years. SMYAL was created when concerned community leaders identified a rapidly-widening gap between the services provided for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) adults and those services available for LGBTQ youth. Understanding that LGBTQ young people face separate and individual challenges unique to their adult counterparts, these community leaders formed a safe space called the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) for LGBTQ youth to explore their identities in a welcoming and affirming environment. Thirty years later, the need for spaces like SMYAL remains the same while the role the organization plays in defining the space is constantly evolving. In 1984, SMYAL began with a set of circled-up chairs as a platform for support groups and dialogue. Today, SMYAL utilizes a youth-driven, youth-empowered, and youth-defined model of commu-

nity involvement. With structured programming in a permanent youth center, SMYAL sustainably provides leadership opportunities which will continue to impact SMYAL’s youth far into their futures. To reflect this focus, SMYAL now stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders. LGBTQ youth continue to face negative social and health inequalities when compared to their peers. However, organizations like SMYAL are creating landmark opportunities for empowered and educated youth to challenge these disparities by gaining the skills necessary to bridge the gap. As a friend and supporter of SMYAL, you help create the ever-changing and growing mosaic of SMYAL stories, which empower each SMYAL generation to become leaders in their communities, schools and homes. In this way, these are your stories as much as ours. You make them possible. Thank you for your commitment to SMYAL and our LGBTQ youth, which makes all of these stories possible. Sincerely,

Mike Schwartz Board of Directors, President

SMYAL’S MISSION SMYAL supports and empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in the Washington, DC metropolitan region. Through youth leadership, SMYAL creates opportunities for LGBTQ youth to build self-confidence, develop critical life skills, and engage their peers and community through service and advocacy. Committed to social change, SMYAL builds, sustains and advocates for programs, policies and services that LGBTQ youth need as they grow into adulthood.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS GIVING PEOPLE SOMETHING TO SMYAL ABOUT................................................... 4 LOGO TRANSFORMATIONS................................. 5 A PERMANENT HOME............................................. 5 RAYMOND LIN.........................................................................................................6 STEVEN GELLMAN...............................................................................................6

PARADES, FESTIVALS AND CELEBRATIONS............................................. 11 TERRA MOORE...................................................................................................... 12 WOOBIN CHANG................................................................................................. 12 REMEMBERING BRIAN.......................................................................................13 D’ANGELO MORRISON......................................................................................13 LINTLE MOTSOASELE .....................................................................................14

MICHAEL TODD.....................................................................................................7

SMYALING TODAY ................................................ 14

REMEMBERING TONY..........................................................................................7 MARCIA.......................................................................................................................8

SMYAL’S 30TH ANNIVERSARY ALUMNI PROJECT ..................................................15

MICHAEL KEY..........................................................................................................8

CREATING A NETWORK .................................................................................15

PHILIP CLARK...........................................................................................................9

CATCHING UP WITH STEVEN .....................................................................15

LOREN..........................................................................................................................9

FACING CONTROVERSY, OVERCOMING CHALLENGES............................ 10

WHY SMYAL? SMYAL was formed in 1984 when local activists called for change after a group of young men were incarcerated in St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital for failing to measure up to the cultural expectations of masculinity. What began with a vision to create desperately needed safe spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth evolved into regular weekend support groups and soon expanded into regular after-school programs. Today, fortunately, the needs of LGBTQ youth are different—in large part because of the seismic shift in public attitudes and awareness

toward sexual orientation and gender expression. And yet there are new challenges and new opportunities to ensure our youth grow into vibrant individuals, actively engaged in their communities. SMYAL recognizes that no matter the year or time in history, LGBTQ youth will continue to need a safe and affirming environment to explore how their identities intersect their role as leaders and advocates in the community. At SMYAL, youth not only have a safe and welcoming place to be who they are, but are provided tools, resources and support to develop as leaders dedicated to social change.

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Giving People Something To SMYAL About As part of the 30th Anniversary Alumni Project, SMYAL staff spoke with Bart Church, who currently lives in Portland and serves as the Program Director for the Oregon-based health organization Integrated Healing. Bart was among the initial individuals in 1983 who, having worked at the Council for Child Abuse and Neglect in the DC Superior Court, was referred to the incarcerated youth at St. Elizabeth’s. Recognizing that these young people were not mentally ill, but instead needed programs that were safe and affirming to explore their identities, Bart and several other allied community members formed a group called SMYAL.

INTERVIEW WITH BART CHURCH, SMYAL CO-FOUNDER & FORMER BOARD PRESIDENT

Q: CAN YOU TELL US SOME OF YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES AT SMYAL?

A: I remember that there was a lot of trepidation in the gay community about us working with youth. It was the youth-work system in DC that advocated for our work the most. The main gay political organization at the time was strongly and politically opposed to adults advocating on behalf of gay children. This was also back in a time when there were no legal protections for gay people…the real beginning of our civil rights struggle. So, people wanted to focus on things like non-discrimination in employment, HIV/AIDS and marriage. Those things got a lot of attention. But, our group kept up our work under the realization that we would continue creating a lot of social problems unless we provide a place for gay kids to feel strong and safe.

Q: WHERE DID THE NAME SEXUAL MINORITY YOUTH ASSISTANCE LEAGUE (SMYAL) COME FROM?

A: The name came from the days when we knew we were really working with sexual minority youth, questioning youth, queer youth, trans* youth, and all kinds of young people who were regularly being discriminated against due to homophobia and sexism. We were trying to address those issues and how oppressive they are to lots of kids, not just gay and lesbian youth. We wanted to make the message clear that we were serving a broad number of youth.

Q: WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE WHEN FORMING SMYAL?

A: The AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s was particularly hard on SMYAL. Some of our key leaders and Board Members lost their lives in the process of its founding. The LGBT health crisis took a serious toll. We survived as an organization, which is a miraculous thing. So many organizations did not survive that time— they were sick, tired, and burned-out. It was a huge epidemic that impacted everybody.

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Also, the organization had very little sustaining money to build off of because the gay community was really reticent to come up with money. The government did what they could, but there really wasn’t a good pot of money where we could pull from. It was all, “do the best you can” with what little we could find.

Q: WHAT WAS IMPORTANT TO YOU WHEN CREATING SMYAL’S PROGRAMS?

A: Support and discussion groups existed at SMYAL from the very beginning, which we adopted from pre-existing “rap” groups in the community. One of the things we were really worried about was turning SMYAL into a social service agency that was telling youth what was good for them. We really wanted to have youth-controlled programming where they were telling us what programs were needed and useful. We always saw our job as assisting youth, not parenting or controlling youth. Our job was to support them in being great.


Logo Transformations: WHY CHANGING THE “FACE” OF SMYAL MATTERS As the LGBT community changes and grows, so does SMYAL and the images that represent it. Over the course of 30 years, SMYAL has seen significant transformations. Having started as a once-weekly support group and gradually developing into a fully functional youth center, SMYAL’s visual identity has evolved along with it. From the inverted triangle, a classic symbol reclaimed during the roots of the LGBT movement, to a wide-smiling, blue “Shannon” logo, SMYAL’s brand imagery has consistently represented the organization’s unique identity and welcoming environment. In 2013, SMYAL released a new brand identity which says as much about our organization’s future as it does about our past. The SMYAL acronym, which was originally Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, was redefined: Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders. Alongside the updated acronym is a remodeled logo that portrays all the energy and life of SMYAL with the forward-thinking tagline: empowering LGBTQ youth. These changes reflect a greater shift in SMYAL’s trajectory, staying close to its roots as a safe space of belonging and inclusion but now playing a much larger role in peer-led leadership and community advocacy.

A Permanent Home: MOVING SMYAL’S YOUTH CENTER TO CAPITOL HILL SMYAL has lived for years within the hearts and spirits of its members but spent a great deal of its first 13 years without a permanent space to call home. After residing for years in rented spaces on 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, everything changed with the purchase of two adjacent rowhouses on Capitol Hill in June 1997. The first permanent center for LGBTQ youth in the DC metro region, our space allowed us to dramatically expand our programming and create a place that has truly felt like home for hundreds of youth. Today, the buildings house all of our administrative offices in addition to our main program space, meeting rooms, a computer lab, a games room, a confidential HIV testing space, the backyard patio, and our perennially popular kitchen. As you can see from the pictures below, the building has continued to evolve over the past 17 years through renovation projects (the most serious of which was completed in 2009) and some regular redecorations and updates to keep pace with new needs and ideas from our youth. Many thanks go out to everyone who has helped to create and shape our safe space through your donations, hard work, vision and energy! 30 YEARS OF SMYAL STORIES

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RAYMOND LIN, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 1988 similar concerns and questions. It’s now over 26 years later,

and I’m still great friends with someone I met at SMYAL!

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Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: I’m now a federal government contractor serving as a Technical

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: A: When I first attended the SMYAL coming out group, I was both ecstatic and scared as many people are when first looking for resources. It was a great, safe (stress on SAFE) way to talk with peers about similar concerns and I met lots of great people who helped me learn more about myself and about the diverse LGBT community. It was great to feel “normal” with people who had

Software Project Manager and Team Lead. My husband and I have been together for over 21 years and were married in Vancouver, BC over six years ago. We were fortunate to have 35 friends and family join us at our wedding ceremony and subsequent Alaskan cruise; attendees included our parents, my brother and sister-in-law, cousins, aunts, uncles, my 88 year old grandmother, and our closest friends. We love to travel—favorite destinations are Hawaii, Las Vegas, Whistler Canada (snowboarding!), Europe, and Walt Disney World.

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH?

A: Life will throw lots of challenges your way and those are opportunities for growth. Choose wisely and learn from mistakes when you don’t choose wisely. Relax; everything doesn’t have to be perfect right now—you have time.

STEVEN GELLMAN, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 1989

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for me, for everything—for my music, for activism, for being ok with myself. And I would imagine if I didn’t find SMYAL I would’ve eventually gotten there, but I can’t imagine any scenario where it would’ve happened so quickly.

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: A: Around 25 years ago I saw an ad in the Washington Post Weekend section for SMYAL. Having just come out to my good friend Laurie, and in return her coming out to me, we thought we should go check out this support group. Both of us were still very much in the closet, both of us were terrified! We walked into the gay community center on a Saturday morning and our lives were changed forever. We walked in holding hands pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend just to “see what’s going on.” The counselor Bob saw right though our charade and invited us to join the circle. We did. Within ten minutes we were no longer holding hands and we found ourselves coming out to these new friends and strangers and we never looked back. It is not an understatement to say that day changed my life forever! Once I went to that meeting, within 15 minutes my whole life changed— radically just changed. The acceptance, the freedom I felt —I guess the camaraderie was what I felt. I never looked back. It was a springboard

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“SMYAL IS COMMUNITY. THAT’S THE FIRST WORD THAT COMES TO MIND. SMYAL IS FRIENDS. SMYAL IS FUN. SMYAL WAS MY WORLD FOR THOSE YEARS.” —STEVEN GELLMAN

Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: Both Laurie and I are married now. I am a performing singer/songwriter with six recordings under my belt and my seventh CD due out at the end of the year. I have written songs about coming out and issues of bullying in schools among many other topics. Twenty five years ago I couldn’t have imagined that one day I would be legally married to a same-sex spouse and playing music for a living. SMYAL is responsible for this in so many ways.

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH?

A: It’s easier said than done, but you are okay the way you are. That doesn’t necessarily mean being gay, or lesbian, or transgender—it’s just okay to be who you are. If you don’t want to play sports, you don’t have to play sports, and that’s okay. You are okay, whoever you are.


MICHAEL TODD, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 1991 I kept coming to the SMYAL weekly meetings because it strengthened my sense of belonging, and it helped to shape the end of my high school experience and gave me a sense of confidence that I hadn’t had previously. It was a great feeling!

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Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: I attended college in Atlanta and came out of the closet there. To my

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: A: Igrew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC and was very insulated and removed from the gay community. My high school was filled with wealthy, entitled, good-ol-boy jocks. . . not exactly the image that I was portraying. Needless to say, I was very different and only had girl friends that I could relate to. I enjoyed sharing stories with my girl friends and talking about boys and who was cute, etc. Although I was not “out” per se, I assume everyone knew I was gay. Luckily I was never bullied. However, it took me a long time to build up the courage to meet with a group of other gay men/women. So one day, I drove down to Dupont Circle, which was still a little bit scary at the time, and built up the courage to attend a SMYAL meeting. As soon as I walked in the room, I felt a sense of belonging, that I had never experienced before. I shared my feelings about boys, how my family treated me, and what I wanted my future to look like. It was so nice to hear that other people had similar ambitions who were gay, too.

surprise, my parents were fantastic when I told them. They told me that they always knew and that they wanted me to tell them when I felt the time was right. To this day they are my biggest fans. In fact, both my mother AND my grandmother have set me up on blind dates with other gay men that they knew. What a support network! Since that time, I attended graduate school at NYU and now have a career in management consulting in the DC area. I’m now working for Volkswagen/Audi as one of the leads on a major IT program that impacts thousands of employees. My boss is also an out and proud gay man, and he gave me a platform to be comfortable coming out to my team.

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH?

A: The older you get, the less isolated you feel. The best thing I ever did was to join a group activity (sports league) where I shared a common interest with other gay people that had nothing to do with sexuality at all. There I met many friends and really built up my support network. I would definitely advise others to take an interest and find a group of others who share the love of that interest. It’s truly grounding and comfortable—the best move I’ve ever made.

REMEMBERING TONY, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 1992 “I remember my cousin Tony and I being surrounded by loving people that were in the same situation as he and I. It was a place we looked forward to going to each week, and he made friends, so did I. We both learned so much there. He learned to love himself and to be more accepting of himself, and I learned so much about what young people went through on a daily basis coming to terms with their sexual identities. I really loved the kids there and I was amazed by their bravery. So did Tony (who went by Tawana at the time) and eventually he emerged a stronger person. He was fifteen and had just been diagnosed as HIV positive. Tawana, my young cousin, passed away ten years ago of an AIDS related illness. Tony, as he returned to later, was a very passionate person and lived life to the fullest. He took every opportunity to be happy and lived life on his terms. He never did have the surgery he so desired and unfortunately I didn’t live in DC anymore, so when he succumbed I wasn’t aware. But I will never forget that vivacious little boy he was or the crazy, wild girl he became. He was unforgettable, and I only stopped by here to mention to you all how much SMYAL transformed his life. So, thank you.” An excerpt from an interview with Wenona Nelson about her time at SMYAL with her cousin, Tony.

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MARCIA, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 1993

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knowing where I was going, but SMYAL provided me a wealth of support in my early teens. I learned how to be proud of my sexuality, how to be an activist, and probably most importantly—how to come out to my family. Thanks so much for everything. The people who worked there, the volunteers, and the fellow youth were amazing.

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: A: Iwasn’t out to my parents at the time, and I’m not sure how I managed to swing going downtown each week without them

Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: I live in Seattle where I work as a fifth grade teacher. I am married to a wonderful woman and have a 20-month old son.

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH?

A: It. Gets. Better. And thank goodness for adults who care.

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MICHAEL KEY, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 1996

PHOTO CREDIT: WASHINGTON BLADE

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: A: It was actually my priest—I was Episcopalian—my priest gave me a pamphlet for SMYAL and suggested I start going because I had a lot of questions and he was helping me sort through it. I really wanted to meet other peers and to understand more about myself. So, I started to go when I was 16. And I had no idea what to expect when I first got here. And walking up old, rickety stairs, I came to this room filled with people—it was this big circle of people, of varying and diverse backgrounds. It was interesting getting to talk with everybody and understand, sharing, struggles, that sort of thing. And also talk about safe sex, which I had never talked about, certainly from the

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LGBT angle, and understanding that I wasn’t alone, that this is something that a lot of people dealt with. I made a lot of friends at SMYAL, I met my high school boyfriend at SMYAL. We used to go out after SMYAL meetings, too. At the time, Dupont Circle was a very gay neighborhood (not so much anymore). We would go there and go to a coffee shop and talk for hours and hang out. It was great. It really helped me to accept myself and it really gave the courage that I would need because I was going to come out at school.

Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: Today I live in Washington, DC sort of in the middle of politics, which is exciting to see. I am the photo editor of the Washington Blade, which is the nation’s oldest and one of the largest LGBT newspapers. I work on the campaign trail or in the House/Senate or White House. Anything that interests the LGBT community—taking photos and managing the photographers of the Blade. In my spare time, I create LGBT-themed music videos for Logo & YouTube.

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH?

A: You are amazing! There are lots of people who have never met you, but care about you and want to see you thrive. Keep going to SMYAL, and find safe places so that you can gain the confidence you will need to be fiercely yourself.


PHILIP CLARK, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 1998

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the anthology “Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS” (Alyson, 2010) featured a number of poets whose work I first encountered on the shelves at SMYAL.

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: A: I never really felt like I fit in particularly well at SMYAL, but it was a more-or-less difficult time in the lives of all the youth who attended, and I have always been on the more socially-awkward end of the spectrum. My favorite and most distinct memories of the Pennsylvania Avenue location are the walls being lined with books; other than at the Arlington public library, this was my first opportunity to interact with gay literature and culture, and I took advantage, borrowing books every week to devour at home. This had a direct effect on my life, as I have gone on to research heavily in gay and lesbian history and literature. My first book,

I also have some more recent “favorite SMYAL memories,” as I came back a couple of times to give talks and walking tours to SMYAL youth who were connected to the organization’s youth leadership initiative. Those kinds of interactions give you hope for the future of our community.

Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: After college at William & Mary, I returned to the DC area and still live locally, in Falls Church. I was a high school English teacher for four years, and am now in my 7th year as a high school librarian. In my “second career,” I’m a researcher and writer/editor, mostly about GLBT topics; I’ve published one book, and a second is scheduled for publication, along with publishing a lot of essays and articles over the years. I also work locally with the Rainbow History Project, chronicling the history of GLBT Washington DC

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH?

A: Read everything you can get your hands on about your people’s history and culture. Trends and fashions come and go, but that kind of knowledge never ages and can never be taken away.

LOREN, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 2000

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Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: I went off to college and became a three-time national All-Amer-

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: A: I came out when I was 12. At the time, myself and one other youth were the youngest kids to ever come through SMYAL. When I came to SMYAL, I was angry, depressed, and alone. I was confused about my gender identity and I was having a hard time as the only out youth in my school. I became really active in the speakers bureau, speaking at events for PFLAG, events for NEA for teachers, Youth Pride events, vigils and other community events, and events for HRC. I even organized an event at my high school where I spoke with the help of SMYAL. I become a youth representative on the [Board of Directors]. Through my time at SMYAL, I grew into myself and found my voice. SMYAL was hugely important in my development as a teen and because of my time with the organization (and my time as a developing Olympic hopeful) I stayed out of trouble and off the streets.

ican athlete. I had two majors and graduated top of my class. I went on to get my Master’s degree. After school, I started working as an Executive Director of a nonprofit youth sports organization. I got married and we were raising a son together. . . I currently work for the American Cancer Society in an income development and event management role. Those are mostly the good highlights. I’ve also had plenty of lows, especially recently, with six surgeries in five years and a tremendous amount of cancer and loss in my immediate family. But I’m moving forward and trying to get my life back on the track I want. I’m also finally at a place where I’m ready to truly explore my gender identity without the use of drugs or alcohol to mask how I feel.

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH?

A: Be true to yourself. Feelings and emotions can be terrifying, but it’s so important to allow yourself to feel what you feel and not mask them in any way. The trick is learning how to live life on life’s terms. For me, middle school and [high school] were the worst years of my life. No matter how bad things have been since, those years taught me that if I can survive that, I can make it through anything life can throw my way.

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Facing Controversy, Overcoming Challenges In 1990, SMYAL found itself in the heat of controversy over advertisements (pictured below) placed in area high schools for SMYAL support groups. Only 25 of 78 high school papers chose to run the ad, many claiming SMYAL was actively “recruiting” young people into the “gay lifestyle.” A fierce debate ensued throughout the DC area over public censorship which ultimately provided a platform for students and community leaders to initiate critical discussions surrounding SMYAL’s work and resources for LGBTQ young people. In the end, the controversial backlash SMYAL’s support programs experienced in the early ‘90s gave voice to an issue LGBTQ people faced for generations and continue to face today. The censorship of SMYAL’s advertisements facilitated crucial dialogue and debate which have provided room for growth and progress as an organization.

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Parades, Festivals and Celebrations SMYAL IN 30 YEARS OF DC CAPITAL PRIDE You can’t talk about the history of SMYAL without talking about Pride. Since its early days in the 80s, SMYAL has joined the community in celebrating Capital Pride each year with a parade contingent and event presence. For many youth, having a place at Pride is a significant way to connect with the community at large—allowing them to seek out and claim their place within the LGBT movement, explore new facets, and feel a sense of belonging. Each year, our parade float is a moment for LGBTQ youth to be in the spotlight, raise awareness, have some fun, and occasionally win awards! SMYAL is also a regular at the Capital Pride Festival and has been a leading sponsor of DC’s Youth Pride Day since its start in 1997, bringing resources and information to local youth along with our signature photo booth in recent years. In 2012, SMYAL launched a new Pride tradition of hosting a youth dance on the Saturday night of Pride weekend, allowing youth access to a safe, youth-specific space with friends for them to enjoy their celebration of themselves.

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TERRA MOORE, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 2008

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Entering SMYAL as a young gay male of color and exiting as a young transwoman of color, I take with me the understanding that change can happen where hearts are open and given the opportunity for change to happen. I carry change in my spirit and in my pocket because it is shared every day.

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: A: SMYAL was a safe haven for me, a place to go and explore dif-

ferent selves. As they say, life is about creating yourself, and it was a place away from society’s usual judgments and baggage to do just that. I learned so much about tolerance and perseverance while attending the support groups and events. It was, in a way, what people say church is: a hospital for those who needed somewhere to become strong.

Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: It is February 24, 2014, I just completed school for massage therapy and have applied for my license in DC, Maryland and soon Virginia. I have been away from my community work due to working and school. The biggest obstacle has been the loss of my mom back in April of 2012. Her home going is still very fresh and very painful. However, in time I shall learn to function entirely again. I hope to return to volunteering with SMYAL along with my interest in healing people through massage.

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH?

A: Let no one tell you your dream is impossible! Let no one stop you from giving 110 percent! Least of all you, the only one at the end of the day who can truly stop you, is yourself.

WOOBIN CHANG, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 2009

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It’s because of SMYAL that I came out of the cocoon to become the social butterfly that I am. I applied for the mentorship in the program and got it. I learned so much from that program. The LGBTQ+A community are my family. And just like a family they are there for you. You accept them for who they are.

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: A: I was recently coming to terms of myself and who I was. I come from a very conservative (Asian) family, where homosexuals are frowned upon. Luckily I had an amazing cousin who was also gay. She found SMYAL and pushed me through those doors. I remember everybody looking at me as I blushed. But the stares were not judgment it was more welcoming with a little bit of curiosity of who I was. I later got comfortable with everyone and started to be myself around them. It was very strange after hiding myself for so long, to finally express who I was without any care. I learned so many things from the bunch of groups I attended, with people who were looking for acceptance like I was. Although I wasn’t flexible enough to do it, “vogue’ing” was a thing I loved to watch my peers do (looked painful though). There were so many different types of people there, from the loud, obnoxious extroverts, to the quiet shadow of an introvert. The status quo did not apply to these people. They made their own standards: everyone was who they were and not to be judged by them.

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Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: Right now I am going to college for RN nursing in hopes to one day become an anesthesiologist. I was also one of the first people to create a [Gay-Straight Alliance] in my city. Over 120 people showed up in my first meeting! It was overwhelming, but from what I learned in

the SMYAL mentoring program, I was able to teach my peers about bullying and anti gay slurs and how we can prevent them. As of right now, I am in the process of making another GSA in my college, I just need to find the time between two jobs and being a full time student. But I’ll get there with the help of my friends and mentors that I have met throughout my life here in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH?

A: Don’t ever give up! You are the most person person in your life. Don’t let some guy/girl make you think otherwise! Find your friends who accept you for who you are. And if they don’t accept it, then they weren’t your friends to begin with. So what if you are gay, bi, or lesbian? That is just a tiny detail about you. You could also be a straight “A” student or an amazing piano player. Or sing/act really well! Focus on things you do well, not the flaws you have—cause at the end of the night, you have yourself. You’re just an amazing person! Don’t you forget it! Love yourself. Don’t worry about what other people think.


REMEMBERING BRIAN, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 2005 An excerpt of a letter from Andrea Picone about her son, Brian: “I am Andrea Picone, Brian’s mom. I’m writing this instead of Brian because he died on October 26, 2009. SMYAL was very important to Brian, so I wanted to write. Brian spoke at the SMYAL Fall Brunch in 2003. He brought the house down with the opening line “I’m Brian Picone and I’m a cheerleader.” He was asked to speak because he’d been a weekly participant in the SMYAL NOVA support meetings in Clarendon every Sunday afternoon. Those Sunday meetings were everything to Brian. He was the only “out” kid at FCHS [Fairfax County High School] and he needed peers badly. Whether it was a movie night, or just talking with Graham and whoever else showed up, it was the highlight of his week. Brian went on to start a GSA at his high school, participate in the Pride Alliance at George Mason University, graduate Summa Cum Laude from Mason with a bachelor’s degree in Gender, Sexuality, and Human Rights, and was the speaker at Mason’s first Lavender Graduation in 2009. I can’t presume what advice Brian would give, but my advice to SMYAL youth would be: to love yourselves and support each other.”

D’ANGELO MORRISON, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 2010

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down to small things like how to answer the phone professionally. I began going to schools to do trainings and outreach. I also spoke on panels and at rallies in support of laws and bills created to fight against bullying in schools and our communities. By the time my internship ended, a passion for advocating for LGBTQ youth and the community had grown, and I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: A: My time as a SMYAL youth was one of the most empowering periods in my life. I gained so much knowledge about myself, my community, HIV/AIDS, leadership, responsibility and advocacy. I started attending SMYAL because I was looking for a place where I could let my hair down and be myself. At the time I was having a difficult time at school and at home. I needed a place where I could be around people experiencing the same issue I was facing. I had no idea of the changes that were about to happen in my life when I walked in the door at SMYAL for the first time. I have so many memories of my time at SMYAL but one sticks out the most to me. I applied to be the Youth Outreach Intern when I was about 20 years old. I did not expect to get the job because I didn’t know anything about outreach, but I got the position anyways. I remember thinking, these people are crazy to choose me. I did not even know what all of the letters in LGBTQ stood for but they saw something in me and began training me on so many valuable skills that I still use today. Skills ranging from public speaking all the way

Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: I currently work at SMYAL as the HIV CTLC Specialist. In my current position I provide free and confidential HIV testing, counseling and linkage to care services for youth. I also volunteer with multiple direct service based organizations around the Washington, DC metro area. Currently, I sit on an advisory board for an organization that serves the needs of MSM ages ranging from 18 to 29.

Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH?

A: I would tell all current SMYAL youth to never let anyone tell you that you cannot do anything. Always reach for the stars and never give up because at the end of the day you are in control of your destiny. Yes there will be hard times and yes there will be some closed doors along the way but you keep pushing because a lot of times you have to create your own keys and make room for yourself.

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LINTLE MOTSOASELE, SMYAL YOUTH CLASS OF 2013

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words and bravery. One of my favorite memories with SMYAL was when we went to Congress and Cyndi Lauper was there. We got a chance to ask her question about her True Colors [Fund]. I remember seeing a transgender man, and he was talking about his experience in office and how positive it was, and I just remember saying to myself, “wow, my kids are going to be alright because my god look at how far we have come.”

Q: WHERE ARE YOU NOW? A: Right now I’m working as a server and a soon to be MAC girl. I’m working on my music, just making sure that I further my chances in moving to New York and living my dreams.

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SMYAL: Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT SMYAL YOUTH? A: My experience with SMYAL in all has been a very positive experience. I learned a lot about myself from the staff and peers. I A: Take every single moment inside those blue walls and make them learned that I’m a leader in my own way. I learned that it’s okay to speak out because you never know who you’re helping with your

a part of your life outside.

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SMYALing Today

In 2014, SMYAL is still beaming with energy. With a permanent home on Capitol Hill in the Eastern Market neighborhood, SMYAL’s youth center sees over 500 youth come through our doors each year—and we’re still growing!

SMYAL staff members, and volunteers. In addition, we organize safe social programs on Fridays and Saturdays, providing a space for youth to be themselves; building friendships and community through activities such as dances, movie nights and game nights.

SMYAL is shaping the conversation about fundamental equality, justice and the right to self-expression for youth, shifting LGBTQ youth issues out of the margins and into the mainstream. Our weekly programs include support and discussion groups where youth can speak openly about their lives, concerns, and get support from their peers,

Because of SMYAL’s role as this region’s premiere organization dedicated solely to LGBTQ youth, we are uniquely positioned to provide comprehensive programming for the Washington, DC area’s emerging young leaders today and for future generations.

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30 YEARS OF SMYAL STORIES


SMYAL’s 30th Anniversary Alumni Project CREATING A NETWORK In 2014, SMYAL will celebrate 30 years of dynamic work in the DC area. Since 1984, SMYAL has dedicated itself to providing support and opportunities for LGBTQ youth to grow as leaders and advocates. To celebrate this success, SMYAL launched the 30th Anniversary Alumni Project, reconnecting youth from SMYAL’s past to the SMYAL community of today. Our 30th anniversary is a critical year for SMYAL as we continue to grow and expand our programs. We look forward to connecting former SMYAL youth to our current program participants, as part of a greater project of reuniting our SMYAL family. Through this, today’s young people can expand upon the foundation upon which SMYAL was built—building a stronger community of LGBTQ and allied advocates for generations to come.

CATCHING UP WITH STEVEN

STEVEN AND HIS HUSBAND OF FIVE YEARS, TONY

Throughout SMYAL’s 30 Anniversary, SMYAL staff have been recording stories and collecting old images from SMYAL alumni. Pictured here is the project’s inaugural interview with youth alum, Steven Gellman (see bio on page 6). Steven and his husband, Tony welcomed us into their home to share memories of Steven’s time at SMYAL and the impact being a SMYAL youth has had on his adult life. th

STEVEN DREW THE ARTWORK ON SEVERAL SMYAL INFORMATIONAL FLYERS, INCLUDING THE ONE PICTURED HERE

Steven’s meeting was part of a series of discussions and collaborations with former youth, to collect SMYAL’s history one story at a time.

“IT WAS JUST EXCITING. IT WAS JUST YOU FINALLY FEEL LIKE YOU BELONG SOMEWHERE. AND IT WAS JUST AN EXCITING TIME.” If you or someone you know participated in SMYAL’s programs between the years of 1984–2013, please contact Sara Conklin, Development Coordinator, at sara.conklin@smyal.org.

30 YEARS OF SMYAL STORIES

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Why looking back means moving FORWARD It’s impossible to celebrate today’s successes without acknowledging the strong foundation upon which SMYAL has been built by the participation of thousands of youth, volunteers, staff, Board members and community supporters who came before us. SMYAL has deep roots in the Washington, DC region and has witnessed some of the most dynamic triumphs and changes in the LGBT community over the past three decades. It is SMYAL’s 30 year legacy which has paved the way for today’s youth to become confident leaders and advocates in their schools, homes and communities. We will continue to reconnect with past members of the SMYAL family to preserve the compelling stories of SMYAL participants who made today’s work possible.

BY LOOKING BACK, WE ARE MOVING FORWARD—WORKING TOWARD ANOTHER 30 YEARS OF SUPPORTING AND EMPOWERING WASHINGTON, DC’S LGBTQ YOUTH.


30 Years of SMYAL Stories