LGBTQ Pride month is drawing to a close, but First Place wasn’t going to to let it just slip by. Yesterday, our Oakland office hosted a Loud and Proud lunch, giving staff and youth the chance to come together and celebrate who they are, in all their amazing and vibrant diversity.

The event was put together by program staff, led by Social Work Support Lead, Karis Wallace. Since joining First Place, Karis has been an active leader in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. Yesterday’s lunch represents just one small piece of her ongoing efforts to make First Place a more welcoming and supportive environment for LGBTQ staff and youth.

“I would like see [LGBTQ] representation everywhere in our work,” said Karis. “Even in the language we use. Instead of saying ‘young men and women,’ being thoughtful and inclusive and not thinking in the binary is a small thing we can do.”

Why Pride matters

Some of the youth in attendance took a break from the festivities to explain what Pride means to them.

“I’m bisexual,” shared Dolores (photo at left). “Pride matters to me because it’s always better to accept all of yourself and be proud of yourself. If you only accept bits and pieces of who you are, you’ll never truly get to where you need to be. You can’t live wholeheartedly if you don’t love yourself wholeheartedly.”

For Jai, pictured below with Youth Advocate Steph Muro, Pride is about being able to “cultivate whatever environment you feel most comfortable in. For me, that looks like being around people who are affirming my being.”

Jai, who is non-binary, shared that they value the idea affirmation over inclusion because, “I feel like as long as I’m affirming myself, I can do anything. And that space and that environment I cultivate is something that no one can take from me. But going into a space where people are talking about inclusivity? It’s sometimes like, ‘This is our space, and it is the way it is, but you are welcome.’ Ok, you’re including me, but are you making sure I belong here? Pride, to me, means making sure that you stay true to yourself”

To Jai, Dolores, and all of our LGBTQ+ youth (and staff) we say: The month may be nearly over, but we’re going to keep the work going. We want First Place to be somewhere you all can feel safe and supported in who you are and secure in knowing you truly belong.

Happy Pride!

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