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.