During the Young Leaders Institute 2014, my world drastically changed. People shared stories that captivated, touched, and slightly even hurt me, because of the gruesome reality of some of my peers’ experiences. Entering the training room that day about five minutes late, as I usually do, I had no idea what to expect. I looked around at my twelve other peers and realized that each and every single one had a story that I desperately wanted to learn. Some of them were dressed in a way that I had never seen, while some of them gave off an eclectic vibe, and some matched my eagerness with wide eyes and tender smiles. As the days of training went on, I learned more and more about the struggles my LGBTQ–identified peers faced on a daily basis.
The part of the training that impacted me most, as an ally, was when the group was split up and moved to two separate rooms. One group consisted of those that identify as gender non-conforming/trans*, and the other group consisted of allies. When the two groups came back together, we discussed important information concerning sexuality and gender identity that allies should know, as agreed upon by the group of gender nonconforming and trans* individuals. We discussed allyship and explored ways in which allies can offer support while keeping the focus on gender non-conforming/trans* individuals. We learned that the voices of allies should not detract from the stories and experiences of gender non-conforming and trans* communities.
I realized that the more I heard them speak, the more they were describing my very own campus project, which is to enable a safe space environment on the campus of Texas Tech University. The development of a safer campus environment will be achieved by forming bonds with faculty and LGBTQ-identified students and promoting events and awareness talks by the Gay Straight Alliance at Texas Tech. I had no idea that some of the approaches my project was using were exactly what my YLI peers were cautioning against! Over the next few days I mustered up the courage to be honest with myself and recognize that I really did not know anything about the way my project should be approached; I had been looking through the same narrow lens that my peers had said felt marginalizing.
During the 3‑day Institute, I met with beautiful individuals, inside and out, who taught me what accepting oneself and the struggle-filled journey to achieve inner peace really means. I learned that I want to be an ally; my peers’ definition of ally, not society’s definition. I observed their humbleness their kindness and their strong-willed personalities; they taught me to embrace art, love, and good vibes. Overall I have learned that I am just an ally. These are their stories, their struggles, and their fights. I am simply here to support them. In a metaphorical sense, my rain shouldn’t cloud their skies.
YLI 2014 changed my views on so many things. I not only walked out more aware of my surroundings, but more aware of myself, my goals, and my aspirations. I gained a stronger understanding of the messages I want to make clear to those in my campus community about acceptance and support and knowing when to take a step back, because the voices that need to be heard are not those of the allies; they are those of the LGBTQ community.
Texas Tech University