Jason Perez is a Youth Advocate and Community Organizer at BIENESTAR Long Beach. He facilitates the weekly Sabores Connect group for LGBT Youth every Tuesday. The following article is the second contribution to our Reader’s Voice, our curated response section that brings professionals from the field to further the discussion on the work our Journalists are making. Brian has written in response to Anthony Nget’s Monster Ball Creates Safe Space for LGBTQ Youth.
As a child, I was frequently asked to “stop doing that.” Whenever I did “it,” some people got uncomfortable while others laughed. Other times, I was told to stop acting like a girl or to stop being gay. And quite often, I was told to stop being “like that.”
Being the obedient child that I was, I complied. I stopped being “like that” and trained myself to be blank and expressionless in front of others. I taught myself how to be silent and invisible. This silence and reserved demeanor carried over into my teenage years.
I carefully put away many parts of myself. I put away my desires and true expressions that were dying to be set free. I created limits for myself, limits of what I could feel and think as a human being. Ultimately, this alienated me from the most authentic parts of myself. There were only a handful of people who made me feel like I could let myself unfold—and just be. They provided me the physical and psychological space to be whatever I wanted. It was relieving to be around these people and let all of the pressure go for a brief moment.
It was like coming up for air.
Events like MYTE’s Monster Ball are much-needed safe spaces for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) youth. They go beyond physical safety, creating an environment where youth can share the most authentic parts of themselves with the world. Participating in events like the Monster Ball reduces feelings of alienation, both from peers as well as their individual selves. The limited amount of resources available to LGBTQ youth makes programs like MYTE at The Center all the more important.
BIENESTAR’s safe spaces manifest in a variety of ways: support groups, social and cultural events, educational workshops, and outreach events. We welcome our clients to be original and to honor their highest, truest selves.
Sabores (Flavors) is BIENESTAR’s youth program serving LGBTQ teens and young adults, both here in Long Beach and throughout Southern California. These safe spaces can make a dramatic difference in the lives of LGBTQ youth by allowing for them to form positive relationships with peers and mentors. They create a sense of family for youth who may not have support at home or in school. Every Tuesday, BIENESTAR Long Beach presents Sabores Connect: a weekly group where youth can connect with others in a safe and substance free environment. We meet from 5pm-7pm in our office housed at St. Luke’s Church on 7th and Atlantic.
BIENESTAR has been around since 1989. It was birthed out of the need for culturally sensitive health and social resources for LGBTQ Latinos in the LA area. BIENESTAR’s grassroots approach allows for greater client participation in moving our mission forward. Our clients are offered the opportunity to become strong community leaders in partnership with BIENESTAR’s staff.
Although BIENESTAR focuses primarily on Latino LGBTQ people, our services are open to all. We embrace a culturally competent approach to our work, recognizing that community members are the heart and soul of what we do.
Our nine centers in Southern California and programs allow for our clients to be recognized as being simultaneously Latino and Gay. They are free from the pressures of having to adhere to Latino gender norms and sexuality, while also being free from the pressure of the norms of mainstream LGBTQ culture. Attempting to create a seamless identity that follows Latino norms and mainstream LGBTQ cultural norms can be stressful and, quite impossible. This practice is neither crucial nor necessary.
I am always gay and always Latino, no matter where I am or who I am with. Here, at BIENESTAR, clients come together and find ways to create a harmonious whole with their fragmented identities. They can claim the authority to be hybrids of two cultures that are often thought of as exclusive to one another. Our clients can be as gay or as Latino as they want to be! We welcome them explore who they are while being of service to their communities.
For More information on services available through BIENESTAR and the Sabores Youth Program please contact Jason Perez at BIENESTAR’s Long Beach office. (562) 628-9687 [email protected], or visit www.bienestar.org