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Michael Kasian,

Summer is here (sort of) and Pride Weekend is upon us once more in our lovely (and frigid) San Francisco.  The citywide increase in flags, tourism, and overall energy is a delightful reminder that this city values its LGBTQ population as much as the NEN’s LGBTQ Resiliency Project does.  However, with this historic 40th anniversary of the Pride Parade comes the reminder that our community’s unity and strength is still not where it could be.

When I last wrote for this blog, things were a little stressful.  The project was just getting under way, I was knee deep in my MA thesis, and I was on the hunt for an apartment.  I am THRILLED (and relieved) to report that I have finished grad school, found a very charming apartment in the Castro and have gotten this project on the right track.  Of course, the project would not be where it is today without the continuous support of our steering committee and the NEN.  I am also happy to report that we have recruited Christoph Zepata, a grad student at San Francisco State University, to help continue the project’s progress as well the Institute of Civic and Community Engagement (ICCE) to assist in the administrative necessities.

The project didn’t really take form until we held our first meeting with Rebecca Rolfe, head of the LGBT Center; Amy Brown, Deputy City Administrator and Director of Real Estate; and the rest of our steering committee.  To start the meeting, we had asked members to introduce themselves and brief us on what challenges they believed the community currently faced.  What we thought would be a brief introduction turned into several heartfelt dialogues that explored the many different problems going on in our community, including care for HIV Positive citizens, support for new parents, and the withering of community institutions.  Yes, this city has a very forthright and proud LGBTQ with plenty of programs geared towards those in need, but our steering committee confirmed that there is a major problem within the community, and for the first time it isn’t just one palpable issue.  It really verified the importance of this project.

Pride is back! (Photo by Ostrosky Photos)

Once the steering committee meeting concluded, the next step of the program began: the interview process.  I have already met with several people to identify performance gaps, re-leverage vital community assets, and generally learn more about each inspiring person’s history within the city. This will probably take some time to get done as there are so many incredible public figures, small business owners and organizations that are vital to San Francisco’s LGBTQ community.

The process is only a few weeks in and already I have learned so much from these key representatives.  I noticed right from the start that the responses have been almost polar opposites of one another, showing me that banks, government agencies, non-profits, etc. at times share a limited dialogue with one another about key issues, potentially resulting in capacity gaps for the underprivileged as well as the survival of important clubs and non-profits.  It has also been a great experience for me to hear such inspirational stories from people that have devoted their lives to the survival and rights of other community members.  I’m getting a better-rounded view of the community while simultaneously learning more about our community’s history within San Francisco.

The part of the interview process that has really been firing me up is when I start to ask about the most at-risk members of our community.  I’m not even going to try to hide that I have left the interviews with a tear or two as the stories and struggles of the past and present are at times hard to hear.  As a 20-something newcomer to the City, I can relate to the others in my generation that comes here only to find incredibly high rents with limited connections to jobs and housing.  They are a group that needs help as this continues to be a city that draws in a younger crowd who leave most of the time because they can’t afford to settle.  This puts a risk on the future of the community’s population.

Of course, they aren’t the only community members that have been brought up in conversation.  Senior citizens are often brought up, as the rest of the community doesn’t give enough support to a historic generation within our population.  Our current generation of LGBTQ seniors has limited support from others as they lack family and community inclusion.  They possess very valuable histories to our community and their stories should be told as we do our best to support their health and wellness.  After all, we wouldn’t be celebrating Pride year after year without their efforts.

Photo by endenizen

Another part of our community that is brought up during the interview are the transgendered youth who often times arrive homeless and in desperate need of help.  Society is moving in the right direction for gays and lesbians, but the struggle for tolerance of our transgendered brothers and sisters is taking a little longer, resulting in many displaced members that seek solace here in San Francisco.  These are only a few of the groups within our community that appear to lag behind those members that have achieved success and stasis in their lives.  This project will hopefully address these capacity gaps within our community, because we’re only as strong as our weakest link, and we have plenty of links that still need support.

As the weekend concludes and another Pride has come and gone, the project will continue to push forward with more help and energy then ever before.  The interview process will most likely take up the majority of the summer and into early fall.  In the meantime, the NEN and I will be posting portions of the interview that I have videotaped to the website to keep you all in touch with some our key stakeholders.  This gives you the opportunity to get to know some very important people while hearing their perspective on the state of the community.  It will be a long process, but I have a strong feeling that by the end of the year I will have not only enough data to make some informed recommendations for the community, but I will also possess a much stronger bond and appreciation for the incredible LGBTQ community of San Francisco.

Love, Loyalty and Happy Pride to All!

 

Michael Kasian

When I first came to San Francisco in August of 2008, I had nowhere to live and didn’t know a soul. I was out on my own and about to embark on a Master’s Program with San Francisco State University. In a matter of two weeks, I already felt like I had lived here for ages. I was welcomed with open arms by the remarkable LGBTQ community. After quickly learning about its history, I felt empowered enough to take charge and fight for equality alongside them.

However, times have been less than easy for us over the past two years. I have witnessed the passage of Proposition 8, major cuts to care for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the closing of many LGBT-owned small businesses. The threats were piling up, and the community is in an uncomfortable situation.

In the fall of 2009, I was able to work with the NEN’s Daniel Homsey and a thinktank of Communication Studies professors and fellow students. Our focus revolved around the ways to instruct leadership to neighborhood representatives. We also brought our own personal interests into the mix, like language barriers, organizational lecturing, and incorporating media and activismPhoto by Ingrid Taylar, Flickr.

Over the winter break, Daniel approached me and suggested that I front the initiative to build a program that was centered around the historic LGBTQ community of San Francisco. I immediately said yes, seeing it as a way to thank the community that took me under its wing by helping to ensure that it remains a vibrant factor of the city’s social fabric. That program has become the NENu LGBTQ Resiliency Project.

Photo by Ingrid Taylar, Flickr

What we have developed is a questionnaire that addresses the main strengths and weaknesses within San Francisco’s LGBTQ community. Over the summer, myself and fellow SFSU students will reach out to leading stakeholders in the city and get their point of view on the main issues that threaten our resiliency as well as ways to improve our current condition. After the interviews, we will process the data collected and develop a summary observation based off of the respondents. In the end, we hope to come up with a strategic plan that will benefit all of the community.

The LGBTQ community of San Francisco is entering a new era of its long and storied existence. The diversified culture is always facing challenges, and it is necessary to monitor and sovle these challenges in order to ensure a resilient community. The city of San Francisco was once nationally known as the heart of the LGBTQ community, and it is time to remind everyone why that is. I am up for the challenge and I am ready to do my part. The work done by the NEN, NENu, and myself will be a vital wake up call for a community to come together and take action.

Michael is currently studying a Master’s Degree in Communication Studies with a concentration on Political Communications and Consumer Culture. He is also a board member of the Alice B Toklas LGBT Democratic Society. When not focusing on his studies or civic engagement, Michael enjoys telling his stories through performance art, learning new languages, and running outdoors. He lives in the Castro neighborhood.

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