Alyssa Linares(She/Her)

Alyssa Linares (she/her/hers) is a mixed race Chicana queer fat femme and Bridge 13 LGBTQ+ Community Educator with the Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC) in Portland, OR (occupied Chinook land). Through the Bridge 13 Community Education program, Alyssa facilitates LGBTQIA2S+ equity trainings for many different communities, and primarily school based communities. She has a background in education that centers sexual health and wellness, youth work, and advocacy for LGBTQIA2S+ rights and protections.

When you came out the first time, what made you feel safe to do so? 

To be honest, I did not feel 100% safe to come out when I did. I was 16, and very worried that people in my family would start treating me like a stranger, or worse. But I had seen the way my parents treated other LGBTQ+ people, and it helped me see that I could trust them. I also started by telling the people I knew I could trust the most, that way I had a support system in place in case things went poorly. 

How do you ally yourself with others who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community?

I express allyship for other people in my community by prioritizing and centering the needs of communities who experience multiple identity basedmarginalizations, such as trans women of color, undocumented LGBTQ+ people, LGBTQ+ people with disabilities, and various other people in the community. The needs of the most vulnerable folks must always be the priority.

How do you educate people about the LGBTQ+ community? 

As a Bridge 13 LGBTQ+ community educator, I specialize in working with teachers and other school based folks to facilitate workshops where people can learn how to make schools safer and more affirming for LGBTQIA2S+ students, staff, and families. My colleague Seth Johnstone also does Bridge 13 trainings, and specializes in working with various community members, such as social work agencies, recovery centers, and local government programs and agencies. Our goal is to bridge the gap between communities, and help people learn how they can show up for the LGBTQIA2S+ people in their lives, and advocate for safer communities for all.  

How do you educate people about intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community?

Intersectionality is discussed throughout a typical Bridge 13 training. For example, when discussing gender, we acknowledge that beliefs about and embodiments of gender will be impacted by the different cultural identities and experiences that people have. Therefore, to say something like “there are only 2 genders, man and woman” is not only transphobic, but also racist, as it seeks to make hegemonic western cultural norms about gender, re gender norms steeped in whiteness, as the “categorical truth,” even though there are so many different people around the world who have a vastly different experience with gender, and do not deserve to have their experiences and identities invalidated.

What resources would you recommend for LGBTQ+ youth who have questions? 

LGBTQ+ youth can join the SMYRC community and connect with other LGBTQ+ youth or staff to ask questions or get resources. The best way to connect with us right now is over social media. We are @smyrcpdx on Instagram and Facebook. We are currently starting up lots of social media content and ways to connect with other LGBTQ+ youth online, so stay tuned! We can also connect you to other resources in community based on specific need.

What did you think your life was going to be like after high school? 

I didn’t really envision my future after high school very much. I knew I wanted to go to college, but I only had a general sense of who I’d be, or how things might turn out. I think because our society teaches us to assume that heterosexuality is some kind of “default” setting, it took a lot of soul searching for me to discover and name my queerness. In some ways, that robbed me of the ability to see my future, because I couldn’t really even see myself.

What tips would you have for people questioning their gender identity? 

I would tell someone questioning their gender to give themselves space to explore and play with their gender to see what feels like home. That could look like trying on make up, speaking with a deeper voice, or asking your friends to call you by a different name or pronouns. You don’t have to have all the answers or commit to anything, and you’re allowed to grow and change at any time. Remember that you’re perfect and whole, exactly as you are. If you have more questions or find yourself overwhelmed, you can call Trans Lifeline, which is a hotline for trans people, run by trans people. 1-877-565-8860

What tips would you have for people questioning their sexual orientation? 

I would say much of what I said above for someone who is questioning their sexual orientation, too. Surround yourself with people who make you feel supported and safe, and pay attention to who or what makes you feel happy. There is no pressure to have all the answers today. If you would like some support or have questions, you can always call the Trevor LGBTQ line, or connect with us at SMYRC.

How do you stay resilient in the face of negativity and stereotyping?

Every day that I live my life as a proudly queer, fat, brown femme, I am showing the world that my life has value, and that people like me exist. It also shows other people in the world who are struggling to see themselves, what queerness could look like for them, and might even give that person a tiny slice of permission to be their truest, happiest, queerest self. And that is sweeter and more important than any garbage someone could throw my way. 

What is your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ representation?

Oh wowee, just one?! That’s tough. I really enjoyed Netflix’s “Next in Fashion”, which is a fashion competition reality show featuring so many amazingly talented LGBTQ+ designers of color, and people from around the world! It’s a very fun and easy binge. Anything written by Audre Lorde is incredible. And have you seen Lucy Liu’s lesbian paintings?! Amazing.

What are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community?

Everyday I ‘femmeifest’ liberation for the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone on this earth who experiences oppression. In the simplest of terms, for me that looks like all people having access to basic needs, such as food, housing, medical care, education and employment, free of discrimination and violence in all forms. I want us all to have what we need to be happy, free, and loved as our truest selves.

Is there any advice you would give to the LGBTQ+ teens of today?

Talk to each other!!! Y’all are so brilliant. Like, really. There is so much information and community online, and ways to connect with other LGBTQ+ youth, even in these times of disconnection! For starters, you could follow SMYRC on Instagram and attend a Climate Justice group, or tune in for Queer Mix Tape, or attend a Gender Support Group, or get involved with PDX Femme Radio. SMYRC staff are also here for you, and ready to discuss resources and supports available.

Edite Forman(Any Pronouns)

Edite Forman(Any Pronouns), is a volunteer at Lambert House. When volunteering, they hang out at the front desk, walk around the house to chat with youth, or participate in Wednesday art night. They are also part of the Outdoor Recreation group, where they organize and lead seasonal outdoor activities, like hiking, sledding, or paddle boarding.

When you came out the first time, what made you feel safe to do so?

I didn’t really “come out” as it were. Being below the radar (even to myself) had always been the safest route for me growing up, and this continued into adulthood. Many folks in my greater social circle, as well as Seattle in general, had been living openly and happily as LGBTQ+ for years. So, I knew I could just slide into living openly in a quiet way that I was comfy with, and that friends and acquaintances would follow my lead on it.

I, possibly weirdly, had more concerns about the LGBTQ+ community. I’d seen a lot of gatekeeping and strict expectations about what affectations and appearances got you accepted verses rejected. It looked like a different version of the cultural strictures of my upbringing and I wasn’t interested in repeating that experience with another group that claimed to love and accept me unconditionally…but didn’t. This continued pretty much up until I learned about Lambert House last year and that they actually meant inclusive and unconditional. I wanted to be part of that type of community, so started volunteering there and have been growing increasingly comfy being “out” around my fellow queer folks.

How do you ally yourself with others who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community?

In a general sense, I talk about aspects of queer life as nonchalantly as I’m able in order to normalize it for everyone, both queer and not. More specifically, I make a point to learn about friends’ and acquaintances’ identities so I can incorporate that knowledge into how I think about and speak to them.

How do you educate people about the LGBTQ+ community?

Discussion, primarily. I tend to take a more academic route, so often explain social systems and structures, and how culture shapes our perceptions of gender and orientation. I have an easier time meeting people where they are through that route. I find it helps minimize awkwardness, and lets people who genuinely want to learn know it’s ok to ask questions and seek out insights.

How do you educate people about intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community?

Same as above, but I’ll pull in some examples of how various identities can combine to create additional or different challenges for people.

What resources would you recommend for LGBTQ+ youth who have questions?

http://www.lamberthouse.org/

https://www.scarleteen.com/

https://www.glsen.org/

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/dating-sex/Pages/Health-Concerns-for-Gay-and-Lesbian-Teens.aspx?fbclid=IwAR2H93ze46Hes004jmmwcTMdXEAeFiI294jmYq3BK18L2bwNx9P_w9nNb6o

https://itgetsbetter.org/

http://www.qcardproject.com/

https://www.youthallies.com/

What did you think your life was going to be like after high school?

Nothing like it turned out. During high school knowing I was queer (both in gender and orientation) wasn’t safe knowledge to have, so I simply didn’t have it. Any awareness I did have was kept very vague and subconscious. It became more conscious after I had moved to Seattle and got some distance from home.

As a teenager I thought I’d follow a very mundane work > college > work > relationship > family route. As it happens, I was never particularly interested in relationships or family, but I did really like school, so now I get to focus on grad school in the way I want to.

What tips would you have for people questioning their gender identity?

Learn about how gender operates within your culture. It’s personal, but also influenced heavily by things like language, social systems, social roles, etc… This will help you understand the ways people around you view and react to gender, as well why you may think or feel certain ways about it. It also offers you new ways to communicate and relate your experiences to the people you want to understand it. Most importantly, it will help you with questions and internal struggles.

Listen to what you’re feeling and what you feel drawn towards being. There can be a lot of focus put on looking or acting a certain way in order to be accepted as a binary gender or a non-conforming gender, but that doesn’t actually determine who you get to be. It’s your identity and you get to determine whether or not that includes aesthetic or behavioral elements. Talk the way you want to. Move and carry yourself the way you want to. Dress the way you want to. Engage in the activities you want to. Feel about and view yourself the way you want to. 

Give yourself time to figure out how you want to reconcile yourself with the world around you. Try stuff out. You’ll find what feels right.

What tips would you have for people questioning their sexual orientation?

Learning about how sexual orientation operates in your culture can be invaluable, and help you gauge what kinds of struggles you may face, and ways to deal with them.

Attraction and libido are not the same thing. Neither are romantic and sexual attraction. Being of a particular orientation doesn’t mean you have to behave in any particular way. Listen to yourself and go with what feels comfy. You know you best.

How do you stay resilient in the face of negativity and stereotyping?

Honestly, friends with shared experiences, or who have dealt with a form of dehumanization. They know how good it feels to just be allowed to exist as you are, so are like the comfy pajama pants of the friend world.

What is your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ representation?

Rainbow color coding.

What are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community?

That we continue to wear away all vestiges of gatekeeping from our community. Exclusion being something nearly all of us know intimately, we’ve experienced the kind of pain we’re inflicting on others when we keep them out. We are responsible for ending that cycle and making sure our community is open to everyone.

That we keep using our experiences to build bridges and acting as agents of change for anyone who’s faced dehumanization because of who they innately are.

Is there any advice you would give to the LGBTQ+ teens of today?

A culture is simultaneously upheld and created by the people in it. It’s yours. Make it what you want it to be.

Aleksa Manila(S/he/Siya)

Aleksa Manila (S/he/Siya pronouns) is Seattle’s sweetheart of social activism. From Miss Gay Filipino to Miss Gay Seattle and beyond, Mx. Manila has used the magic of drag to educate and entertain hundreds and thousands of folx about the power of diversity, equity and inclusion. She’s a favorite speaker, emcee and performance artist from lip syncing to full on productions. She founded Pride ASIA in 2012, whose mission is to celebrate, empower and nurture the multicultural diversity of the LGBTQ communities through the Asian and Pacific Islander lens. Follow her journey on social via @aleksamanila and her website at www.ALEKSAMANILA.com

When you came out the first time, what made you feel safe to do so? 
When I came out the first time, it was to my mom over brunch infront of my first boyfriend (who at the time, she had only known to be my “roommate”). So as far as feeling safe, I felt “safe” because it was my mom. Of course, I still felt nervous and anxious, but I didn’t feel that my safety would be an issue. Yes, I was “scared” because I still didn’t know how open she would be. She’s a devout Catholic and fairly conservative culturally, but I must have known deep in my heart she loved me despite of and regardless of my sexual identity. And I was right. Her words still ring true and have been a perennial symbol of inspiration and encouragement. She said, “You will always be my son and nothing will ever change that. I love you for who you are.”

How do you ally yourself with others who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community?


Over the years, I’ve witnesse a progressive journey with the LGBTQ+ community. I wouldn’t say I had a conscious awareness of aligning myself with the community or identifying as an ally. However, I would credit my first gay social support network, a group of friends whom I’ve known since I came out and to this day they remain one of my closest friends. In fact, just the other day we did virtual happy hour to catch up and check up on each other’s well-being. And over time, I started getting involved in HIV education that led to research, intervention and prevention work. That focus on LGBTQ health introduced me to community-based and nonprofit organizations. And I think my extrovert social personality was a good match to interact and work hand-in-hand with groups and be part of their mission and goals. And more recently, having completed my graduate degree (MSW at UW), I’ve learned to match the theories behind the action and the work I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to, that drove me to be aware of my identities and to see individuas, groups and systems with a social justice lens. So when I’m given a platform to educate and entertain people be it at a drag show or a health conference, I’ve learned to advocate and lobby for social changes that positively impact the LGBTQ+ community because we recognize the disparity and the prejudice that we endure.

How do you educate people about the LGBTQ+ community? 
Drag as a performance art form has allowed me to incorporate education through entertainment. It’s a powerful tool that is really fashioned after social marketing as a means of informing the audience. The ways I’ve been able to accomplish this has been in various ways from subtle language through lyrics or overt props to symbolize a deeper meaning to speaking directly about LGBTQ+ culture to a captive audience of students or professionals, be it for a class or a symposium.

How do you educate people about intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community?
Not shying away from identifying intersectionality within the LGBTQ+ community is a good start. Often these intersectionalities involve race, culture, class, etc. As an educator myself, my strategy often starts with the most common basis of knowledge around diversity, and once I’ve got their focus, I then transition into the complexity of the intersectionalities within the LGBTQ+ community – often, I raise the prevalence of privilege that take the shape of racism, sexism, etc. I would also add that adding tasteful humor is a great tool to enhance the learning experience. Constructievly, using healthy and honest communication is really integral. And the phrase, “talking WITH” will be more effective than “talking AT or FOR” your audience. It’s about positive change that involves everyone.

What resources would you recommend for LGBTQ+ youth who have questions? 


As a Seattleite, I am grateful that our city, county and for the most part, our state has an array of resources geared towards the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, there are numerous resources at the national level. Locally, we Lambert House, Youthcare, Gay City, Ingersoll Gender Center, Seattle Counseling Service, PFLAG, Pride ASIA and a list of social support groups that can cater to individual needs. But I also want the to acknowledge that many families and social groups can also cater to these needs.

What did you think your life was going to be like after high school? 
For context, I wasn’t out in high school, including my first few years in college. In fact, I didn’t have the language to describe how “different” I felt from the rest of my circles, be it at school or socially. Having attended private Catholic school from pre-school to college, I was subcribed to the protocol of going to college immediately after college, which I did, and being able to declare my college choice by senior year. So, when I graduated high school, I immediately enrolled into college at age 16 into a Physical Therapy program. Looking back, I think it was just a simple aspiration of graduating college and that was that. Of course, now as an adult, I think about things differently, particularly, about the future and what that means for an Asian-American, immigrant, FilipinX, genderqueer and so on.

What tips would you have for people questioning their gender identity? / What tips would you have for people questioning their sexual orientation? 

These are great questions and would love to combine them because they intersect often, and it would be equally great to remind folx that they are not the same. When I have opportunities such as this to expound on this topic, I take advantage of it. I use the phrase “Who you sleep with is different from who you sleep as.” This basically means that “who you sleep with” (or intimate with or have an attraction to) is one’s sexual orientation and “who you sleep as” (one’s sense of self related to gender expression/identity) represents one’s gender identity. This is often very helpful using this metaphor. As far as tips, I feel that stage of questioning is a great start of recognizing this, and not many people go thru this stage and can be so challenging if you miss this step. But this is not to say that this is essential, however, I will say that it is critical and can help so much in helping to figure things out. Paying attention to one’s emotions and/or how our bodies react when we go thru this stage is also valuable. I would recommend paying attention to our breathing and finding a grounding moment to move from this place to a space of readiness. And readiness can be so different, unique and beautiful individually. If you have friends who are LGBTQ-identified, it can be so helpful to know that you have allies in the journey, and can play as role models by simply sharing their personal journeys. It doesn’t hurt to research and maximize online tools, but one must be cautious of sources. Sometimes conservative and anti-LGBTQ groups mask themselves online and pretend to be LGBTQ resources. Seattle is pretty lucky to have a list of LGBTQ organizations and programs from Seattle Counseling Service, Gay City, Ingersoll Gender Center, API Chaya, UTOPIA, Pride ASIA, and so much more. And another special tip is if you can invite your family to be part of that journey. Of course, one must think about safety of coming out even if it’s just a question. And if not, play it by ear and seek guidance from a trusted person or group, whether they’re friends or professionals, or even online support. These days, there are phone lines for young LGBTQ people and adult LGBTQs alike. 
And to illustrate the difference – I came out twice to my mom and a third time to myself. I came out “gay” to my mom when I was 22, and at 26 I came out as a “drag queen.” And it wasn’t until a few years ago that I came out to myself as “genderqueer,” which to me encompasses my sexual orientation and gender identity equally. And for objective reasons, I fall under the umbrella term “transgender.”
So as far as tips: Be brave about venturing forth in your identity journey, and make sure you have the tools to keep you safe and healthy in mind, body and spirit.
9. How do you stay resilient in the face of negativity and stereotyping?
This is a tough question. I am thankful my mom taught me how to be resilient. As a survivor herself, I saw how she endured and recovered from her past – from her abusive husband, wartorn Manila during World War II, including Martial Law in the Philippines. When faced with adversities, I often think about how my mom and how she would survive it.
But in the moment, it really varies. Sometimes standing up for myself helps with my self-confidence most times I let it go, knowing that it’s not my personal war to win. I’m generally a peaceful person, and so the phrase “kill ’em with kindness” resonates with me. It’s also been helpful to remember that it’s not a personal attack; and that sometimes other people’s anger or violence is a representation of the hurt they feel inside. 


10. What is your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ representation?
My favorite piece of LGBTQ+ representation is the RAINBOW FLAG, most specifically the modified version with the Black and Brown stripes; and all the different variations to symbolize the diverse subsets of communities within the LGBTQ+ community. I love how universal it is. It’s not limited to the LGBTQ+ community. It’s metaphor associated to “rainbow after a storm”, references to the narrative in “The Wizard of Oz,” the song “Over The Rainbow” by Judy Garland. I appreciate how as a community, we have embraced the growth and journey of the rainbow from the simple 7 colors, adding the lavender stripe to the Black & Brown stripes. It’s representative of our growth as a community. It’s also become a symbol for “safe space” which is so beautiful when, for example, we’re traveling to a new environment, and we see this on a building, etc. we know it’s safe to go in.


What are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community?
I hope that when we’ve achieved equality that we strive for equity; that we truly celebrate diversity by lifting and honoring womxn, trans* womxn, and trans* womxn of color; and that we challenge and abolish sexism, classism, racism and all the things that maintain the status quo. 


Is there any advice you would give to the LGBTQ+ teens of today?
Be yourselves, be all that you want to be.Genuinely and wholeheartedly love yourself.Love the people who care about you.Choose your friends wisely.Find a healthy hobby that makes you feel good.Talk to your elders and listen to our histories from their eyes. Take care of the earth and it will take care of you.

Stephanie Forner(She/Her)

Stephanie Forner(She/Her) is a volunteer for Lambert House.

When you came out the first time, what made you feel safe to do so? 

I came out a number of times, I’m not sure I ever truly equated coming out with safety. The first time I really came out to someone other than myself was to my closest friend. She was a relatively religious individual who I’d known since I was twelve. My friendship had always been a safe haven to me of sorts, I never really had a doubt that telling her would end badly. It didn’t. So ultimately, I think what made me feel safe to do so was finding someone who had always accepted me for me, and understanding that it was likely said person wouldn’t suddenly change after ten years. When I finally came out to my parents that was a different story, I refused to ever tell my family until I’d met someone I was sure I’d spend forever with. So in that case what made me feel safe was my girlfriend (now my spouse). She made me feel strong and independent and prepared to face whatever their reaction was.

How do you ally yourself with others who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community?

I’m not entirely sure the best way to answer this, perhaps because I don’t know exactly what it means. If it means how do I build friendships and relationships with LGBTQ+, the answer is honestly I don’t do it intentionally. Most of the LGBTQ+ I’ve met occurred naturally, since coming out to my friends and family I decided to be upfront and forthright about who I was, about my sexuality. I spoke about my relationship openly with my wife and in doing so I think I naturally found my way to others like me who wanted to also to wanted to do the same. I shared my life and I think the friendships and allies I’ve made along the way happened because I was honest and open.

How do you educate people about the LGBTQ+ community? 

I think for me the most important aspect of education is making sure the person I’m educating WANTS to be educated. For example, while I’ve certainly attempted to educate my folks regarding LGBTQ+, at the end of the day their still uber conservatives who think people like me are going to a bad place. Now, for people who actually want to learn, I tell them the truth, I’m open and transparent about life as an LGBTQ+. I tell them what they want to know and always begin with ask whatever you want, because it’s more offensive when assumptions are made. I find that while I get a lot of “typical” questions (who’s the guy in the relationship), ultimately it all comes from a place of wanting to be better. In return I find situations where I can ask questions and learn in return, so I always try and keep it an open and active conversation.

 How do you educate people about intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community?

This is another situation where I’m brutally honest, unfortunately racism, transphobia and sexism still exist in even in the LGBTQ+ community, you see flamboyant young men who get picked on for being to feminine, butch lesbian who are too masculine. Ultimately when people ask about it, I do mention it’s part of a reality, we don’t have to like it, and I certainly don’t condone it, rather I try to encourage people to look at things from another perspective. There are so many cultures and backgrounds for us to appreciate and diversity already in our LGBTQ+, we should embrace our differences rather than judge or point them out.

What resources would you recommend for LGBTQ+ youth who have questions? 

Using Lambert House in Seattle has opened my eyes up to how much is out there for youth, the Trevor Project is also wonderful, some states have great Stonewall resources.

What did you think your life was going to be like after high school? 

Honestly I was so far in the closet in high school I assumed I’d marry a man, and have children because that’s what would keep my family happy. I never imagined that I could be happy with a woman, that I could have a family we create together. I wish someone had been there to coach me in high school and assure me that no matter what I felt it was going to be okay being who I was.

What tips would you have for people questioning their gender identity? 

Trust your instincts, so many adults (including some who are LGBTQ+) struggle with the idea of gender being a scale, it’s easy to feel forced to be something you aren’t because others are uncomfortable. It’s normal to explore your gender, to explore your sexuality. If you don’t feel safe doing that at home then find a place where you can. For me it was in sports and college. It’s okay to want to learn more about yourself, to gender bend. Don’t let someone force you into discomfort because they’re uncomfortable, try and find a common ground.

What tips would you have for people questioning their sexual orientation? 

Set boundaries for yourself, when I was young I always said I wouldn’t have sex until I was older, while my sexuality didn’t have anything to do with the physical act of sex, it allowed me to have a limit for myself at all times. There was a line and I wasn’t crossing it until I was confident I was ready. By setting those boundaries I was able to explore my sexuality, with men and women and ultimately figure myself out before I gave up a part of me I couldn’t get back.

 How do you stay resilient in the face of negativity and stereotyping?

When  my wife and I were living in Ohio it was a lot tougher, we sort of just ignored the negativity and we had some fun with the stereotypes. You can’t use a stereotype against someone if they don’t see it as a negative. Coming out here to Washington opened our eyes to just how little support we had. We’ve worked to develop a community, allowed ourselves to feel connected to the LGBTQ+ community here and in turn we combat it by being supported.

What is your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ representation?

Queer Eye, the new version, I adore the Fab Five I want to give them all a hug and feed them a nice large dinner. I think my favorite part of this is that it’s based in the south which is exactly where LGBTQ+ need the support. Love it.

What are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community?

On a personal level I want to be a known LGBTQ+ author, I want to be a common name for readers in our community. On a less personal level, I hope we can have more media representation. I want to see LGBTQ+ Rom Coms (and to write them), I want to see main characters who are strong and powerful AND gay, or transgender or asexual.

Is there any advice you would give to the LGBTQ+ teens of today?

It’s not always going to be like this, you won’t always feel unaccepted, you won’t always feel unsure and unconfident in yourself. Teenage years are so rough for so many reasons and you’ll hear it constantly, but it does get better. It really, really, really does. Find resources, make connections, find your community and start discovering yourself now. Keep fighting because every day you fight, is hopefully one day less than the next generation will have to fight for their rights and recognition.

Haven Wilvich(She/Her, They/Them)

Haven Wilvich is a Nonbinary Transgender Woman, a gender blogger, an activist focused on Trans Healthcare Disparities, and a Project Coordinator at Fred Hutch in the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. She is a founder and co-leader of an Employee Resource Group called Fred Hutch Rainbow Employees for Equity (FHREE) for LGBTQ+ employees and staff who want to learn more about active allyship. The group focuses on changing institutional practices to be visibly inclusive of our community and empower staff to change their own teams and work practices. In the HVTN, she works with clinical sites around the world on the operations of finding an effective HIV vaccine. 

When you came out the first time, what made you feel safe to do so? 

Coming out took a very long time for me. I grew up in a very isolated conservative Christian community and didn’t have any words to describe my experience of gender. In college I started to find queer community but I still didn’t have exposure to nonbinary people and didn’t feel like I quite fit the mold of a transgender woman because I still thought that I needed to “pass” in order to be trans. I got married in college to the first person who ever showed interest in me, in large part because I thought that no one could love me for who I really was. And because I was in a relationship that appeared straight, I didn’t bother to continue exploring my sexuality. It wasn’t until I was 25 that I began to realize that my gender and sexuality could be expressed more authentically. And it was really meeting other nonbinary people and finding role models such as Jacob Tobia and Alok Vaid Menon that gave me the examples I needed to come out to myself. But when I came out to my spouse at the time, she reacted very poorly and wanted me to stay closeted. That was the last straw in a relationship that had never been healthy so I eventually left and came out publicly 8 months later. 

How do you ally yourself with others who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community?

I actively remind myself every day that even though I may understand a small slice of what it means to be queer and transgender, my experience comes from other intersections of my life. Because I am white and have some financial privilege, I can never fully understand the challenges that queer or trans people of color face or the experience of living in poverty. I try to live and work in a way that creates space for those experiences to be centered and expressed because only when we all work together can we truly be liberated. 

How do you educate people about the LGBTQ+ community? 

In my personal life I have been writing about my transition and experiences of gender for almost 5 years now. I share very publicly about my journey in hopes that other trans people can have examples that I didn’t have until later in life and so that cisgender friends can learn empathy for paths like mine. 

In my professional work, I advise on policies at Fred Hutch and actively create education opportunities for staff to grow in their cultural competency from an intersectional lens. 

How do you educate people about intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community?

Rather than trying to speak on behalf of people in more marginalized communities, I try to share their work and boost their voices directly. There are so many resources for self-publishing and visibility on the internet and I try to read as much as I can and make that work visible to others. I also help lead discussions that build empathy and focus on experiences of communities of color. 

What resources would you recommend for LGBTQ+ youth who have questions? 

There are so many amazing resources in Seattle and online it’s hard to know where to start! 

For inclusive anatomy and sex advice, I recommend Scarleteen

For amazing articles about gender and intersectionality, I recommend Everyday Feminism

For advice about exploring gender, check out Conversations with a Gender Therapist

For advice on Nonbinary identity and transition, check out Genderqueer.me

For in person support, visit Lambert House

What did you think your life was going to be like after high school? 

By the end of High School I had pretty much resigned myself to living a boring life of keeping my head down and ignoring my gender and sexuality questions. I wish that I had the resources and support at that time to become my best self instead of waiting until my late 20s. So don’t waste your time! Seek the people in your life who can help you be authentic and happy. 

What tips would you have for people questioning their gender identity? 

There are so many different ways to express your gender! You don’t have to have dysphoria or dissatisfaction with your body to be trans or nonbinary. Find the things that give you euphoria and let them lead you to authenticity. And then find the words that feel right to describe your experience. It’s ok if those words change or if it only feels right for a time. Most of us are constantly evolving and growing and our labels and identity do too. If you feel sure that you don’t want a particular type of puberty or you think you want to transition medically, it is ok to insist that a doctor put you on puberty blockers. I wish I had been able to do that as a teen because it would make everything so much easier now. Puberty blockers aren’t permanent so you can change your mind later. But you are also the expert on your own body and experience so don’t let anyone else ever tell you what to do with it. Seattle Children’s has an amazing Gender Clinic where you can get help and support. 

What tips would you have for people questioning their sexual orientation? 

It is ok to explore and mess around while you’re trying to figure yourself out. Just because a word feels right now doesn’t mean you need to use it forever. And remember Bisexual/Pansexual people absolutely belong in the queer community, no matter who they are in relationship. You don’t stop being queer just because your relationship is being read as “straight.” 

How do you stay resilient in the face of negativity and stereotyping?

Fill your life with people who support you for who you are and give you affirmations about your journey. And as much as possible, try to minimize your time with people who want you to fit into a particular box, even if that box is “gay.” You should have the right and the support to figure out who you are and having a fan club to cheer you on helps weather the harsher world around you. Also, avoid the comments section on the internet. Haters gonna hate but there are plenty of people who are on your side out there.  

What is your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ representation?

I love the poetry of nonbinary writer Alok Vaid Menon, particularly their book “Femme in Public.” Steven Universe is also my happy place. 

What are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community?

I hope that even the people who want “assimilation” and to fit in to the status quo culture can learn to see that we need radical change if all of us are going to fit in. The world isn’t going to become a better place until we stop treating cisgender and heterosexual as the sole definition of “normal.” 

Is there any advice you would give to the LGBTQ+ teens of today?

Don’t settle for a relationship where someone expects you to be a certain way. You deserve people who love you unconditionally for who you are and who you are growing to become. Because you will keep changing for a long time hopefully and you need both friends and partners who will support you along that path.