United Way Community Matters
Mary Lou Goeke
Monday, August 25th, 2008
“I was driving home from work a few weeks ago, listening to the KZSC Closet Free Radio broadcast, thinking more about the week ahead of me than the show. As I approached a traffic light, an articulate young woman came on the air talking about her relationship with her father. It was difficult, she said, when she first told her father that she was gay. Although he loved her, it was hard for him to accept her sexual orientation.
This is a story I’ve heard before, I thought to myself. Another tale of a child whose parents don’t understand or don’t know how to continue loving and accepting them after they come out. It’s a story that rings too true for the youth across Santa Cruz County. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth face a wide range of reactions from their parents, from anger and rejection to tolerance and acceptance. However, it is the silence and invisibility that is said to be the most painful and isolating part of the coming out process.
As I continued listening to the show, however, the story quickly changed. The young woman, Sarananda Osheim, a senior at a local Santa Cruz high school, told the audience that after she had become involved in education and visibility activism for local LGBTQ youth, her father saw the amazing potential of his daughter and has since become one of the most loving and supportive forces in her life.
Sarananda is currently being recognized by far more than just her immediate family. Her commitment to her school, her community and her peers has placed her as one of the four awardees of the 11th Annual Queer Youth Leadership Award. The Queer Youth Leadership Awards (QYLA) is a Santa Cruz County event that brings together families, public officials, community organizations, and youth (gay and straight) to thank and highlight our young community leaders.
These young leaders have been nominated for a wide range of work for their communities – from connecting LGBTQ youth across the county to safe and supportive spaces, to being out and visible role models for others. Reading the biographies of the awardees and nominees, available on the QYLA website, is highly inspirational and emotional. Their stories surpass struggle and survival, reminding us of the importance of supporting those who are making life easier for all youth.
The awardees and nominees for this year’s show are, once again, exceptional youth. The Awardees are: Sarananda Osheim from Harbor High School, Omar Fuentes from Pajaro Valley High School, Danielle Elizalde from Watsonville High School and Laurel Stern from Santa Cruz High School. The nominees are: Gilberto Mendoza from Harbor High School, Yahaira Marquez from Pajaro Valley High School and Alayna Manor from Santa Cruz High School.
Awards are also given to individual and organizational allies to LGBTQ youth. This year’s Ally to Queer Youth Award will be presented to Joe Eugene, and the Organizational Ally to Queer Youth Award will be presented to the YWCA in Watsonville. Being an ally to LGBTQ youth is vitally important because it is allies who are the lifelines for youth in crisis.
Being a supportive LGBTQ ally is like being a loving parent. If the Queer Youth Leadership Awards have taught me one thing, it is that our community’s commitment to supporting the leadership and potential of all youth is as important as the support that is given from parent to child. When our community embraces our youth, we encourage growth, confidence and responsibility.
Become a part of this community even by joining me at the 11th Annual Queer Youth Leadership Awards on Saturday, April 26th at New Brighton Middle School in Capitola. There is a community resource fair starting at 5 pm, with a catered buffet dinner at 5:30 and the Awards Ceremony and Variety Show beginning at 7 pm.
The United Way of Santa Cruz County is a proud co-sponsor and I encourage you to visit their website at www.QYLA.org and learn more about the young LGBTQ people and their allies. I also encourage you to support the event in any way that you can. Tickets locations throughout the county are listen on their website. Donations towards the event would also be most welcome. The Queer Youth Leadership Awards is produced by the Santa Cruz County Task Force for LGBTIQ Youth, an affiliate of the Diversity Center.
The support of family and community is of great importance to our communities LGBTQ youth. Please join me in standing with the families of the young people who are tirelessly working to make Santa Cruz County a more welcoming and loving place.
For more information, call (831) 427-4004 or visit their website at www.QYLA.org
For the past 15 years Mary Lou Goeke has been the Executive Director of the United Way of Santa Cruz County. She has 32 years of experience providing social services to elders, children and families. The mission of Uniterd Way is to improve the lives of the people of Santa Cruz County by convening the community to seek solutions to their needs and by efficiently raising funds for the human care programs the United Way supports. Their website is www.unitedwaysc.org”