Posts Tagged ‘Transgender’
“Travel is fatal to bigotry.”
I bet we all have a half dozen or more inspiring – and true – quotes about travel.
When I was just out of college, working a stipend volunteer job and living in community with others in the same program, there was one person in our apartment who was NOT straight out of college. She had just completed two years in the Peace Corps, living overseas. In the year we lived together, I was continually struck by how much broader her understanding of the world was than the rest of ours.
Travel changes us. It challenges us. It makes us grow.
It’s a formative experience for youth and young adults. Its impact on them – on us – stays with us throughout our lives.
So we’re beyond pleased to be planning two different international CAT trips this year.
But travel, as we know, can also be stressful. The details can be challenging.
When we travel with CAT, we come across details that stop us in our tracks. The challenges to travel that our young people encounter are mind-boggling to me.
One young man flew with no photo ID. He went to the airport with us in the full knowledge that he might not be able to fly. (For those who are wondering – he was a legal adult.) This young man was homeless, and like many homeless people, the ID he’d worked hard to acquire got lost. He had two State IDs (we didn’t ask how that happened…) One was lost when his bag was stolen, and the other was lost when the bag that it was in, that he’d stored for safe keeping at the place of a friend who had an apartment through a housing program, was lent out to someone else, its contents emptied and subsequently lost. This young man discovered that both IDs were missing the day before we were flying – so we looked up what to do if you don’t have photo ID, and he went to the airport equipped with his birth certificate, his social security card, and his high school diploma. He had to go through additional security, but he joined us on our trip.
Anther young man planned to join us on an international trip, so we helped him get a passport. We sent in all the required documents, including State ID and birth certificate. His application was denied – on the grounds that his State ID was issued too recently. — Yes, you read that right – his ID was issued too recently. It gets more bizarre – they told us that he needed to present five valid forms of ID, all at least five years old. It did cross my mind that in the State of Illinois, a Drivers License wouldn’t work as one of these forms of ID, because they expire in four years… We scrambled, and got it figured out, and this young man came on the trip.
Twice we’ve had young people whose tickets we’ve bought – and then they got work that didn’t allow them to come on the trip. One young man was offered a job on the spot at a job fair. The job was retail, and the orientation was the next week, in the middle of our trip. They wouldn’t let him attend a different orientation – if he couldn’t make that one, he didn’t have the job. I’ve applied for jobs, with limited vacation time that didn’t accrue until Id’ been there a while, with vacation already on my schedule. In the middle class and white collar world, you tell your potential employer about the trip, and it’s usually not a problem. You might have to take unpaid time – but it doesn’t preclude employment. Sadly, this young man was not able to go on the trip he’d spent five months helping to plan, learning about navigation, tides, currents and trip planning in order to do it.
Perhaps the most perplexing obstacle was when we had a young person whose date of birth is unknown. It’s true – we have three different years of birth for her. This young person was 17 years old when we met her. When we celebrated her birthday 7 months later, she was turning 17 years old. We asked her for her date of birth and made ticket reservations with that information, only to discover that the date of birth on her ID doesn’t match EITHER of the ages she gave us… And our reservation was made with a date of birth that WASN’T the one on her ID…
Traveling with a transgender young person also presents challenges. We had to make sure we knew their names and gender on their ID, neither of which match the person we know. We had to publicly and officially mis-gender them in order for them to be able to travel. And we have to be prepared to advocate for them at the airport – there’s documented evidence of a trend of harassment towards transgender people at airport security.
Every time we plan a trip, we’re caught up short by challenges that our young people encounter. Still, travel is valuable enough that we put in the work to figure it out. And we almost always do.
A man who, as our own President said a few hours later, “took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”
As photos and news stories, quotes and tributes began to fill the internet, I, like many others, found myself looking at memories.
And then, an interesting thing started to happen. A few articles started to appear that said, essentially, “let’s remember ALL of history.” Let’s remember Nelson Mandela’s full story. Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years because justice does not come easily. Equality does not arrive on its own.
For many of us of a certain age, Nelson Mandela may have been the person who was the impetus for some of our first forays into political action. A friend reminisced about avoiding Coca Cola products in high school and college, as part of the boycotts of corporations invested in South Africa. In 8th grade, I added a “Divest Now” button to my store of political buttons. We boycotted and called for divestment because our own country was fully complicit in practices and policies that upheld Apartheid.
People – whether individuals, countries or corporations – rarely give up privilege, convenience or wealth voluntarily. And so Mandela, a Freedom Fighter, was a prisoner before he was the President; he was dubbed a “terrorist” before he was honored as a “statesman.”
I was reminded of how much easier it is to claim heroes as our own after they have “won” than while they are fighting. Had Nelson Mandela died in the 1960’s or the 1980’s, at the beginning and in the midst of his struggle for justice and for equality in South Africa, few Americans and few American organizations would have paid tribute to him the way we did yesterday. Even the best lawyers cannot stand resolutely for justice when it is not yet the law of the land takes a courage, perseverance and vision that few people have. And it requires risking more than most of us are willing to risk.
Whatever the challenge, whatever the risk – our kids in Chicago need us to summon some small piece of Nelson Mandela’s vision; some fraction of his courage; and as much perseverance as we possibly can. Our kids are not just “making bad decisions.” They are struggling mightily in situations stacked against them.
• Some of the kids we work with grow up with no examples of options beyond the gangs that dominate their neighborhood
• Some of the kids we work with are thrown out of their homes in adolescence because of their sexual orientation or gender expression
• Some of the kids we work with come from families without the money for college, and have no access to financial aid or to military service – both of which sometimes provide access to college for kids who can’t afford it – because they are not citizens
• Most of the kids we work with live in poverty
• Most of the kids we work with experience systemic racism every day
These are questions of justice. We want to help our kids make good decisions, develop positive self-esteem, learn solid problem-solving skills, become good team members and communicators. But this is not enough. Our kids need justice. They need equal access to a solid education, to the resources of this city, to not just adequate but good health care. The list goes on…
Yesterday, President Obama said “His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings—& countries—can change for the better.” We share Obama’s words with you today in the hope that our own country, and our own City, can change for the better.
“The day…he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when…guided by their hopes rather than…fears.” At CAT, we hope to have the courage and the vision to stand for justice now, when our kids need us to. When, in this city, it is not yet easy.
What our kids can do, when guided by hopes, not fears, will be something to stand back and watch. Because we work with some of the most amazing young people in this city – and we’ve seen what they can do when they walk past their fears.
• This program shows the power of outdoor activities to motivate, to challenge, and to open up lines of communication in children from various backgrounds. To see the shy and introverted smile and show excitement and self-confidence, the normally self-centered helping others, or one afraid of water rolling three days later…wow, what a feeling. (Chris Delridge, Riverside Kayak Connection)
• I was not sure what I’d expected being with the kids from CAT and Detroit. What I found was that these kids were some of the most delightful, thankful, and appreciative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being with. The benefit I believe they received from the project this year was immense. I saw huge gains in self confidence, skill, problem solving, and reaching out to other people. This
project has got to go on and expand way beyond it’s current state. (Jim Palermo, West Michigan Coastal Kayak Association)
“I was a little reluctant to work with the program at first. I’m more comfortable with adults than I am with teens. However they told me there was a need for an adult female role model so I agreed. How wrong I was. Those kids were amazing to the point where I came close to tears several times. Days later I am still re-living it and sharing the story of the impact those amazing kids had on me. Sign me up for next year.
The young people and all of the adults with us were pleased, and the young people were surprised, at the very warm welcome our whole group received. It would have been easy for them to meet with condescending or patronizing attitudes. They all noticed that there was very little racial
diversity among the rest of the symposium’s attendees. That could have ended up being a very uncomfortable position for them – either because they weren’t genuinely welcome and were treated with suspicion; or because people could have been overly enchanted with them precisely because of their race. What happened instead was that this community welcomed them with open arms. They remembered our youth from one class to the next. Coaches and other students alike treated our young people with respect and warmth, and gave them the very best they had to give.
welcomed a 14 year old into their circle and facilitated my paddling in a way that would have been impossible without them. What I do now – training and communication with specialties in risk management, decision making, and leadership for both the healthcare and aviation industries – is directly descended from what they taught me on the water 20-some years ago.
I’d like to give that back in some way. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you or the kids. I’d very much like to see them come back. The GLSKS is a magical thing for teenagers.
• Feb 7-9, 2014 – full group ice climbing in the UP with Bill and Arnie of Down Wind Sports?
definitely coming back for more. Thank you guys.” — age 15, DeKalb, Illinois
2013 Gitche Gumee Project!
GITCHI GUMEE PROJECT PARTNERS
building and problem-solving, among others, and these skills then transfer to their everyday lives.