It’s easy to get disheartened about progressive causes right now. The Trump administration seems to be doing everything it can to roll back rights and protections for all the most vulnerable members of society, from immigrant children to transgender soldiers, and Republican state houses across the south are stripping women’s right to choose faster than we can keep track. These moves have real repercussions, taking away people’s rights to fight for the country they love, earn a living wage, or even their ability to live at all. It’s scary and frustrating, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wondered whether my expat friends have it right. But then I see my friends here in Elmhurst who are doing all they can to make life better for those who cannot do it on their own, and I am immediately inspired.
Shortly after the 2016 election, I found my own cause. At the time, I felt like I had some connection to the LGBTQ community, as an ally to close friends and extended family. I also had the memories of growing up in a community very much like Elmhurst, at a time when it was not easy to be openly gay, or to be different in any way that didn’t conform to a narrow set of expectations. I realized that I wasn’t a good ally then, but I could be now. So I joined the board of Youth Outlook, an amazing social service agency dedicated to the support of LGBTQ youth. Their work has been and continues to be immensely valuable in every community they serve. Youth Outlook operates drop-in centers for middle and high school teens, offering them a safe and welcoming environment to be with friends, discuss important issues, and, most importantly, be themselves. We also have staff who educate school districts, private businesses, hospitals, and more on how to better support and protect their students and employees. We provide support groups for parents of LGBTQ youth, providing support, community, and resources. Serving on this board has been extremely gratifying and a very powerful way to combat the continued hostility toward the LGBTQ community on a local level.
This month, my family and I marched with Youth Outlook in the Aurora Pride Parade. Our group had a prime spot in line for this parade because our fearless Executive Director served as Grand Marshal. It was a beautiful day, overflowing with love and support. I saw Moms Who Hug, and Dads Who Hug, and siblings carrying signs and passing out candy and bracelets. It was a magical day of rainbows and glitter and music and fierce pride and so many young people freely expressing who they are and who they love. I was there as a proud member of the Youth Outlook community, but now also as an even prouder mother of a beautiful transgender girl and her loyal and loving little sister, watching them walk with their own allies—friends and family who would do anything to help them feel safe and loved.
About a year and a half ago, my oldest child came out as transgender. I was so grateful for all the training I’d completed upon joining the Youth Outlook board, which made the announcement so much less confusing for this straight, cisgender mama. I had information and access to resources that other families might not know about. I had friends already parenting their own amazing transgender teens. And most importantly, I had a community of loving, supportive friends and family who reminded me that love can do wonderful things and can give my child the space to find her way in a world that won’t always understand or respect her. She has people who love her all across this country and right here in our community. For some of them, she is the first openly transgender person they know and, often, the first openly trans person they love. It’s an amazing opportunity to educate others and open their eyes to the varieties of human experience. Watching her become more comfortable expressing herself in a way that feels right and authentic, and gain confidence in her identity, has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. And seeing her walk in that parade made me feel so grateful to be a part of such a loving and supportive community.
I don’t want to make it seem easy. It’s not, and her life will always be complicated and full of challenges. But she’s lucky to have so much support. Not all kids have that. And not all families understand how best to support their LGBTQ kids. That’s why I am so excited to be bringing Youth Outlook’s services to Elmhurst, with a new drop-in center opening this fall. For 20 years, Youth Outlook has been growing and expanding services across northern Illinois. Now our community will become a part of the Youth Outlook family.
Sidenote: Youth Outlook relies on a dedicated slate of volunteers to staff our drop-ins. If you have any interest in joining our team, whether working closely with the youth, or assisting in fundraising or outreach, please reach out via our website, youth-outlook.org. Thank you!!