On the weekend of February 28-March 2, I co-led a Basic Help Increase the Peace (HIP) Workshop along with RPEC lead trainers Ram Bhagat and Santa Sorenson. The workshop was open to adults and youth and was held at the Fan Free Clinic. This specific workshop was sponsored by a grant from the Richmond Gay Community Foundation, which has continued to generously fund many local programs focused on LGBT issues and community-building. The youth attending the workshop were extremely diverse; they represented a variety of racial backgrounds and around half were LGBTQ-identified.
HIP is a unique, interactive conflict transformation program that empowers participants to reduce violence and become agents of social change. Originally developed by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), participants build skills for responding to conflicts through nonviolence, analyze the impact of oppression and social injustice on their lives and communities, and develop skills for action. Exercises in this workshop included: What does conflict mean to you? Economic Justice, I message/Feelings Statements, Building a Just Community, Violence Against Gay Youth, Standing Up to Sexism, Domestic Violence and Homophobia, Perspectives on Non-Violence and Social Change, What is Racism, Racism in History, among many others.
Many of the activities were powerful and transformative, but a few in particular stood out. Several of the activities involved strategizing ways to handle specific scenarios, often involving violent or harmful situations. These were helpful for applying the concepts we discussed to real-world situations. Of all the activities, I found that those that involved the sharing of experiences were the most intense, and the most effective. For example, during our typical “I-messages” activity, which is a key component of all our conflict resolution workshops, the group shared stories about various times in their lives when they felt disrespected and like their voices were not heard. This trend about the importance of being heard continued throughout the weekend, and we were able to provide a space for everyone to share their stories.
As a facilitator, I had the privilege to watch the youth in attendance grow and learn throughout the weekend of workshops. Perhaps one of the most memorable, poignant moments was a discussion we had about personal experiences of physical violence and verbal harassment by the LGBTQ individuals in the room, myself included. It was a difficult, emotional conversation, but the stories and voices heard were unbelievably important. Watching the exchange of experiences and the appreciation of differences in the room is something I will keep with me forever. The stories of bullying and violence experienced by LGBTQ youth present had a profound effect on their straight peer participants; these personal experiences brought the abstract concepts of homophobia and transphobia to life. Conversely, many of the white LGBTQ participants were able to learn from the African-American youth there who shared their experiences of racism and discrimination. This exchange and growth was incredibly transformative, as the youth began to understand the complex mechanisms of different oppressions and how these forces played out in the lives of their peers.
I am very happy to say that I will be co-facilitating a shortened workshop on LGBTQ Youth and Bullying at RPEC’s Youth Peace Summit this April, along with a teen RYPP trainer who was present at the workshop and is a member of the LGBTQ community. This marks a new focus in RPEC’s programming to actively engage with the LGBTQ community in Richmond, specifically LGBTQ youth, through our conflict resolution and social change workshops.