ElevArte Blog

ElevArte Studio

LGBTQ Youth and the Changing Landscape

An Intergenerational Kiki*

By Tony Alvarado-Rivera and Cesar Hernandez of the Chicago Freedom School.

Editors note: At ElevArte Community Studio one of our main goals is to create a safe space for youth, a space where they feel free to express themselves creatively and explore who they are. We want to make sure that all youth are included, especially LGBTQ youth. We wanted to know how young LGBTQ people are being supported and what has changed over the years. Are there more resources? Are schools safer? Here to shed some light on these thoughts and questions are activist, Tony Alvarado-Rivera and Chicago Freedom School (CFS) youth, Cesar Hernandez.

Tony Alvarado-Rivera (TAR): Tell me about your experience growing up as a gay young person in Chicago?
Cesar Hernandez (CH): Well, for me it feels like it is a little more freeing because my peers and I grew up seeing more positive images of LGBTQ people on television. Everything seems more established now because of people like Ellen DeGeneres, Laverne Cox and of course RuPaul!

TAR: That’s funny because I remember watching the episode when Ellen “came-out” on national television (1997) and being so nervous that my parents would somehow know that I was queer because I was watching it. I turned the volume on the TV so low--and they didn’t even understand English!
CH: OMG! You’re old. [Laughing] Well, when I was in grade school some students bullied me so things still aren’t perfect. Living in the southwest side of Chicago you feel so isolated from LGBT resources. Fortunately, I was able to get support from my parents, teachers and two of my mentors from Southwest Youth Organizing Project (SWOP), David and Omar.  However, they were in my school through the teen reach program. Imagine how many students aren’t able to find the support they need.  Did you have support in school?

TAR: You know, at first I didn’t. Then there were some brave LGBTQ and allied students in my high school that started a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). Back then GSAs were still pretty new and students often feared being harassed and “outed”. I joined and that’s where I began my activism. Slowly I became more politicized and realized that there are critical issues that we have to start organizing around.
CH: Yeah, I identify as an LGBT Organizer and Activist because visibility is important. There are different types of paths you can choose, but you have to know the intersections like, why the Black Lives Matter movement is important and not JUST marriage equality. As LGBT organizers and activists we need to pay attention to all the other struggles in which people want to be heard. Thanks to CFS I’ve been able to identify oppression such as racism, sexism, adultism and moments that are not fair. I do think more youth my age understand the importance of building solidarity and allyship and are less afraid to speak out on injustices affecting others.

TAR: So then do you feel things are changing for the positive?
CH: Now that I’m meeting new people and furthering my activism I see there are a lot more resources out there like Vives Q, VIDA SIDA, Broadway Youth Center and ElevArte. It’s important for every organization—not just the “gay ones” to be more inclusive of all youth. That includes LGBTQ youth as well, especially when we are seeing young people coming out as queer and trans at ages 13, 11, 9!

TAR: I’m glad to hear you say that. It is definitely the social responsibility of organizations and individuals to create spaces where youth can be their whole selves. I know when I was your age or even 5 years ago, community organizing or activism was a very singular issue in the city and not always queer/trans friendly. Now you see more and more organizations being inclusive to queer and trans communities and issues.
CH: I agree. Thanks to all the LGBT trailblazers and allies I get to be myself and feel more and more free everyday!


*Kiki: A conversation amongst two close friends held for the express purpose of calming nerves and reducing anxiety and stress.


Tony Alvarado-Rivera is a multi-issue community builder working and living within an anti-oppression and harm reduction framework. His current role at the Chicago Freedom School is Coordinator of Youth Programs and most recently, Alvarado-Rivera completed his tenure at Broadway Youth Center as the Mentor Program Coordinator. Additional experience includes work with the groundbreaking About Face Youth Theatre and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in New York.

Cesar Hernandez is a senior at Mather High School where his favorite subjects are English, Political Studies and History. He enjoys studying and reading about current events and helping out at Chicago Freedom School where he co-facilitates workshops. He also cares about LGBTQIA youth and fighting oppression in school systems. Cesar is also a part of I.T. Academy for Gaming Concepts and is interested in studying Political Science in college.