Monday, May 27, 2024
InterviewsLGBTQ+ RightsPodcasts

Richard meets… James Young

This week, my guest on the podcast is James Young, a Professor at Monroe College. He Started the Westchester County’s First LGBTQ Youth Program  in 1992, and is the recipient of  2007 GLSEN Hudson Valley Leadership Award. He also coordinated the  Common Threads Youth Empowerment Retreat  for several years in Rockland County.

Has been the faculty advisor for  Rainbow Alliance at Monroe College  in the Bronx for three years, the college marched in their first NYC Heritage of Pride Parade in 2016 and created gender neutral restrooms on both Bronx and Westchester campuses. Is a volunteer at  The Loft LGBT Community Center  in White Plains, NY, and is the program director and one of the founders of query.us

Richard Jones: Welcome onto the show James, its great to find out so much about as I did my research and I am so impressed that you started an lgbtq+  youth group 28 years ago!?

James young: Thank you for that, its kind of fascinating to look back actually, because today there are kids in middle school who are members of their Gay Straight alliance, but back then wow. I was 17 and I went to the LGBT Centre, in white plains, called the Loft, and it was such a life saver. The person that took the call when I asked about this men’s group said, “Tell them you’re 18 because they won’t let you in otherwise.” They were so careful with this stuff.

So I went to the men’s group, and several of my gay elders — my “gelders” — took me under their wing and said “ You know, you should use this space and create a youth group.” And so, I really created it, but it wasn’t just me — it was also my gay elders supporting me. I was very lucky to be able to do that.

I was very out about things, which was very different back then. I was in the journal with my info, name, age, and a picture. My gay elders were worried, and telling me to be careful of gay bashing. There was a lot of fear, and rightfully so. But I guess I was not old enough to be afraid.  A lot of LGBTQ students came through the program, and today it is called Center Lane. Its still running, and is run by WJCS in White Plains.

RJ: Amazing story! But what led you to that group in the first place.

JY: That’s a good question. My childhood was not really traditional, and in my teenage years I was living on my own. So, because of that, I had some interesting freedoms while discovering my own sexuality. I would call hotlines, because I was too young to go to bars. So in that I found two organizations I wanted to be part of which was The Loft LGBT Center, and I found ARCS (AIDS Related Community Services) which is now HVCS.

So, I volunteered at ARCS doing things like copying stuff, and found their sister agency the LOFT — which is how I found he men’s group. Oh my gosh, I remember going there — It was called The Loft because it was an actual loft space. I remember getting there and there was this black staircase that went up and up, and it seemed like the largest climb to meet my brethren. My tribe and I could be really really gay then. Each step felt heavier and heavier, but they were so great and welcoming.

RJ: Tell me about the milestones you went on to achieve with this new group that you have now created?

JY: It’s a bit of a blur. I was a high school student, trying to make rent, so there was a lot going on. But, I do remember my friend Amy — who is straight. She and I talked about running it together, and how running an LGBTQ group with straight people in it was actually a good idea.

Oh my goodness, we had such resistance. All my gay elders were like “that doesn’t make sense, it’s a safe space just for queer folks.” Of course, many years later, we have and know what GSA’s are, and many of them around the country have a lot of straight people in them supporting the cause.

RJ:  I am going to jump ahead a little bit — Tell me about what you are up to with queery.us.

JY: Queery is currently focused on four projects:

1. Queer Zen Meditation offers two weekly gatherings to cultivate connection for LGBTQ and allied communities. Our Thursday meeting at 5:30 pm EDT on Zoom is co-sponsored with The Loft LGBT Community Center, and our Saturday Morning Seven Minute Sit is held on our Instagram account (@queerzenmeditation) at 9:30 am EDT. 

2. Pride Zoom Backgrounds are available on our website (www.queery.us under projects) for folks to screenshot or download and use for their next virtual meeting on Zoom and other platforms. The 30+ designs are fun and free, so enjoy finding your favorites. 

3. #QueeryPronounChallenge aims to increase the normalization of sharing and asking for pronouns, while decreasing misgendering and assumptions. Our next step, after asking people to add their pronouns in their digital world (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, email signatures, etc.), is to offer tools on how to have conversations about pronouns in real life. Please send us pics of your profile with your pronouns or tag us @queerypronounchallenge. 

4. Sticks and Stones is still going strong by stimulating discussions about words used against and within our communities. Many folks have been waiting patiently for access to shop for these images on shirts, and we have just updated our website for the shoppers this week. So browse through and pick you favorite images, shirt, color and size and have one easily shipped to your home. 

In addition to these projects, we are still facilitating workshops and have other top secret projects on the back burner.  Organizationally, with the help of some generous funders, we recently applied for our 501 c3 non profit status. This means that we will be applying for grants soon to continue and expand the work we are doing.  

RJ: What’s next for you, and what would you like to do or achieve in the coming years?

JY: In the next coming years, I would like to continue to serve the public and share what I have learned (gaying it forward, so to speak). There are two ideas that have been percolating over the last few years.

1. To learn music and write a few songs about what I have learned.  2. To write a book about my journey in hopes it might inspire others while they are on theirs. 

For more information on James’ work at queery.us please head to the website here: www.queery.us

Listen to the FULL Queer Forty Podcast interview with James Young to find out more about his life and work, how he helped create queery.us and how he one danced with RuPaul!

You can also listen to the Queer Forty Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and don’t forget to subscribe!

Some of the questions and answers have been edited from the Podcast, and some questions are unique to this written inteview.

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Richard Jones

Richard is the co-founder of Queer Forty. As a 40-something gay man, he is passionate about creating good, informative and entertaining content for the over 40 LGBTQ Community.

Richard Jones has 136 posts and counting. See all posts by Richard Jones

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