I feel very sad for Dakota James’ family, especially his mother who seems immersed in unresolved grief. But their unwillingness to consider that a terrible accident befell their son while he was drunk is having a negative impact on the LGBTQ community and general population of Pittsburgh. The Foundation they established is taking LGBTQ resources out of Pittsburgh while dumping trauma on us via misinformation and “Christian psychics” – it’s gone too far. The latest round of media hype about a docu-series on the so-called Smiley Face Killer is continuing to distract people from very real problems that could reduce harm to young adult gay white men.
Another family with good intentions – the parents of Jackie and Juliet Evancho – are heading down a similar path by announcing plans to launch their own LGBTQ youth foundation and comprehensive social service agency. In Pittsburgh. Without a shred of evidence that they have cultivated community support or investment. Or have a plan to leapfrog over nearly 50 years of LGBTQ social service history in this region.
The Brave Heart Foundation of Pittsburgh will provide homeless LGBTQ young adults between the ages of 18 to 26 with safe housing, access to mental health support, and healthcare services from providers who specialize in the treatment and needs specific to them. In addition, the brave hearts who are enrolled in this program will work continuously and closely with a trained professional to create a flexible blueprint of their goals and aspirations. This will include completion of a 4-year degree or vo-tech program with assistance in job placement upon completion. Their Brave Heart guide will support them through the process and help them overcome barriers.At the end of their time with us, The Brave Heart Foundation will help them find housing and create a sustainability plan. We will also provide ongoing support for navigating through the challenges that arise as they move toward their goals and become productive, valued members of society.
This is problematic at best. This region lost two important LGBTQ youth supports this past year – the educational org known as THRIVE and the 20+ year Friday Night Drop-In at the Pgh Equality Center (formerly the GLCC.) Those are two significant losses. PFLAG and Persad can pick up some slack, but not most of it. There’s not enough resources for that level of expansion.
There are other losses including PFLAG Butler, the erosion of Proud Haven, and the waning of supports in Johnstown. One of our two statewide organizations, Equality PA, lies dormant, plagued by scandals, mismanagement, and poor strategies.
Also, our youth are not devalued or unproductive because they are homeless or unemployed or struggling with systemic oppression. That’s so insulting and degrading. If anyone has a brave heart, it is these youth – not their would-be saviors.
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Now is not the time for allies to redirect resources to their own priorities. Now is the time for allies to listen to the LGBTQ communities and do the long, difficult work of community building.
We have enough trauma to deal with from our internal foundations, we don’t need or deserve this.
I’m confident the James and Evancho families are not intentionally trying to hurt us, but both refuse to listen on these issues. They refuse to acknowledge that their choices are erasing queer culture, exposing us to trauma, and siphoning resources away from essential, life-saving supports. That is not okay.
Both families continue to have opportunities to set a new course to support LGBTQ folx, but it will require taking giant steps back and letting go.
If the Evancho family foundation was set up to fund existing LGBTQ youth services, that would be useful and a respectful healing step. I know that leaders in youth programming have advised them to pull back and listen. They won’t. It is disheartening to see so much potential good cast aside because they won’t listen.
This is Ally 101 work.
And if we continue to be polite and nice to affluent parents with good intentions, our young people will be the ones to suffer even more than they already are.
If your work with Pittsburgh LGBTQ youth is not intersectional, it is not helpful. If you are not at the table listening to PEOPLE’S Pride, Garden of Peace Project, Sisters PGH, PFLAG, Persad, and other community groups, it is not helpful. If your work reduces the agency of LGBTQ youth to make decisions or erases 20 years of youth programming, it is not helpful.
If you cannot name the QTPOC whose young lives have been lost these past years right here in Pgh, it is not helpful.
We don’t need saviors. We need allies. Allies listen, they don’t take charge.
My hope is that both families will step beyond their own perspectives to engage LGBTQ folx and lend their privilege to validate, lift up, and promote the very good work that has been underway for decades as well as seed the many great ideas developed by the queer community.
My intentions, too, are good and based on what my education, career, and lived experiences as a disabled middle-aged cis white queer woman have taught me. Don’t you dare attack me for not having good intentions around LGBTQ youth when I offer a critique of the actions of cisgender heterosexual white folks. Someone has to say these things and most of the organizational leaders are dealing with precarious balances already.
Stop consuming limited resources. Stop spreading disinformation about the history of LGBTQ youth programming. Stop ignoring the fatal violence QTPOC and other young queer people experience in this region. Stop using your children’s experiences of oppression to cast yourself as an expert on systemic program building.
If you feel the knee jerk reaction to tell me how I’m all shades of wrong for critiquing allies, I suggest you take a read of this piece about responding to criticism.