When I last visited LYRIC, the Center for LGBTQ youth in the Castro, I was served a hard dose of reality. Jodi Schwartz, the executive director and Nick, an intern, said that they no longer felt a connection to the historic neighborhood. In the weeks since our encounter, I was delighted to receive a special invitation to speak with three interns who were working to change that for the better.
On April 28, LYRIC will host an open house organized entirely by 16 youth interns. It’s an opportunity for residents of the Castro to witness future community leaders in action and learn more about their stories as queer and questioning youth.
When I sat down with Stella, 16, Koko, 17, and Alex, 18, I couldn’t help but notice how candid and courageous they were in sharing their personal histories and plans for the big event.
“We really want to share LYRIC’s story, but we also want to share our own,” Stella said. “It’s really interesting to showcase ourselves as we throw the open house, especially because we have this opportunity to open up to all of these new people around the Castro.”
“This is the 28th anniversary of LYRIC and they’ve had open houses before, but this one is going to be different,” added a confident Koko. “We’re going to have spoken word performances of different youth stories throughout its history; we’re going to share our own histories; and we’re going to have a promotional video on the second floor that we put together to showcase what we’re all about.”
A lot of the interns will be sharing poems and performance pieces they wrote themselves, all in the hopes of helping the neighborhood understand why a place like LYRIC is still so important for local LGBTQ youth.
“I hope all of the new straight people in the Castro come here and educate themselves on our identities,” Alex said. “LYRIC really opens up your perspective to identity. I didn’t really know what trans or pansexual meant until I got here. Now I’m more educated about all of the pronouns and identities, and I think it would be helpful for these new straight people to learn about it, too.”
The interns are hoping to draw as many neighbors to the event as possible, and have taken to the streets to invite the locals, one by one.
“The other interns are probably somewhere in the Castro right now handing out flyers and knocking on doors,” Koko said.
“Most of us are at different schools,” Stella began, “so we bring these flyers to our schools and to our other friends who are probably questioning their identities as well.”
Considering Stella was driven to LYRIC five years ago because of bullying in her school, the thought of inviting her classmates to learn more about her identity made me realize the impact LYRIC has on their outlook.
“When you leave the LYRIC house, you take that knowledge with you,” Alex said. “It makes you feel like you’re not the only one questioning your identity and what that even means.”
“The social justice trainings that we have here teach us to be prepared for the conflicts we face,” Koko said. “LYRIC gives us that knowledge and education to defend ourselves in a civil manner.”
When I asked whether any of them actually hung out in the Castro, the answer wasn’t as positive.
“It’s not my initial area to go because I’ve experienced a lot of transphobia, homophobia and racism in the Castro,” Stella explained. “I think around the world people think of San Francisco as this loving place and everyone that’s gay is automatically accepted, but not at all.
“I’ve been around the Castro all my life. I went to middle school and now high school here, and a lot of bad things happen when you’re young and queer.”
When I passed Schwartz in the building, I could tell that she was excited for the open house, particularly because of a development from last year’s event.
“The parents are starting to come to the open houses as well,” she said. “It was only a few, but it’s a sign of this cultural shift where families are recognizing how important this part of a queer youth’s life is, and to be this organized and sure of themselves at such a young age is something any parent should be proud of.”
When I mentioned this prospect to the interns, Alex’s eyes grew large and a smile lightened his face.
“I’m the only queer one in my family, so they don’t really understand me,” he confessed. “I might invite my family here. It’d be great to say to them, ‘Hey, this is me, I’m queer. This is what I face.’ That could be pretty powerful.”
At the end of our chat, we discussed their hopes for a LYRIC in every neighborhood in the country and their plans for college. Given their charisma and focus, I had no doubt they could pull it all off.
As Communications Coordinator Natalia Vigil walked me to the exit, she recalled her experience with LYRIC as a youth in San Francisco many years ago.
“Growing up in the ‘90s in San Francisco, I knew about LYRIC, but was afraid to go because of how volatile the national conversation around gay people and HIV/AIDS was,” Vigil said. “It was a very different time. To see these kids now being so determined and forthright is just really inspiring.”
For more details on the open house, visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/1773400006216396/