Want to get involved in social change? Love yourself first

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved. Today’s story is about one young man’s coming out journey both to himself and the world of social good.

There comes a point in your life when you have to look in the mirror, and ask,  “Who am I?”

In April this year, while I was lying in bed in the wee hours of the night, I did just this.  I picked up my phone, opened Instagram, and chose a photo that I had taken earlier that night. I typed a short paragraph that forever changed my life:

My name is Hakeem Hicks, I am an African-American college student at Clemson University and I aspire to work in the field of broadcast journalism. I am a Gates Millennium Scholar, an innovator, a leader, and a role model. I am a man of faith who has his own relationship with God. I am a son. I am a brother. I am a best friend. I am a visionary. I am an achiever. I am a conqueror…. and I am a member of the LGBT community!

With the submission of this one post I released a myriad of emotions – fear, anxiety, doubt, worry, stress, even self-hate. I had finally found the courage to share my biggest secret that I had been keeping for 15 years – I am a bisexual male.

That night I laid in bed for over an hour just thinking and contemplating on what I had done the next morning. My mind was in a whirlwind. Will my family disown me? Will my church family shun me? Would my peers treat me differently? No matter how bad the potential answers were to these questions, I was still at peace.

Growing up LGBT in South Carolina

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Hakeem showing Clemson pride.

When I was younger, I was deathly afraid to let anyone know about my sexuality. I’d been on the receiving end of taunts about “being gay and a faggot” since I was in the fourth grade and those taunts broke down my confidence and left me vulnerable.

Then as I got older and became affiliated with the church, the desire to be and do exactly what I feel in my heart got stifled even more by sermons that said I was an abomination and unrighteous. I tried to “pray the gay away.” No matter how hard I prayed or how long I fasted, my desires never died down.  So I stopped trying to be what others wanted me to be and began living just as I was created.

My coming out process took three long years. It started my junior year of high school; I came out to my best friend one random day after school. She immediately embraced me. She expressed that she had always known and even began to unsuccessfully try her best to play matchmaker.

The next step was for me to tell my mother. My mother had always raised me to not be judgmental and to walk in love; I had been exposed to members of the LGBT community my entire life and she supported them. My mom was the one person I knew would be there for me and would have no problems with me being a same-gender loving person.

I was wrong. When I came out to her last summer, she told me that I was disgusting and that I would go to hell. We didn’t speak for two whole months. I gave up on my life during the fall semester of that year. I was no longer trying to work, experience, and grow; I was just there. Friends and mentors got me through this time.

Finding purpose again

The last phase to my coming out was to let the world know. I don’t know what happened to me that night in April that pushed me to share with the world my deepest secret, but I’m glad whatever stirred my spirit that night did.  

Now as an openly bisexual male, I feel it’s my purpose to break down barriers between the heterosexual world and the non-heterosexual world. I’m blessed to be a part of two major initiatives – Gates Millennium Scholars and National Youth Pride Services (NYPS). I recently joined NYPS as a way to be a part of a team of individuals who are passionate about gay rights and collectively known as an agent of change.

I don’t know exactly what my role will be in terms of LGBT social movements, but I do know this: I’ll never turn my back on those who have to give up or hide their own individual identity. Because in the end, gay pride isn’t just about loving another man, but about loving yourself.

National Youth Pride Services (NYPS) is an organization that develops and supports black youth leaders in the LGBT community. To apply for membership or get involved, email youthpridecenter@gmail.com.

248576_1904658150504_1608657_nHakeem Hicks is a third-year student at Clemson University majoring in Psychology and minoring in Education. An accomplished student and a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Gates Millennium Scholarship, Hakeem aspires to a career in broadcast journalism. He hopes to use his future platform to fight social injustices and be a role model for the young men of tomorrow.

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On God’s Campus: Bridging the gap between faith and the LGBT community

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved. Today we’re featuring a project that is helping to make peace between two communities often at odds.



In December 2011 at the house of a George Fox University faculty member, Paul Southwick sat with a student in a secret meeting. The student was gay, suicidal, and struggling to come to terms with his sexuality on the religious campus.

“He cried and told me what he was going through, and it was what I had went through and heard other alums go through,” Paul says. “I thought, enough is enough. We need to be able to share our stories and let people know that this is the impact these policies and cultures are having. If we can personify the consequences, maybe there will be a little sympathy, and a little change.”

That moment was a catalyst for creating On God’s Campus: Voices from the Queer Underground, a video campaign and book project started in the summer of 2012 that shares the stories of LGBT youth and alumni from conservative Christian campuses across the U.S. The goal is multi-faceted: connect youth with each other so they don’t feel alone, empower both gay and straight allies to take action and create support systems on campus, and educate school counselors and staff about this community.

“The whole purpose of this project isn’t to destroy these Christian colleges. It’s actually to preserve them. Because if they don’t make some changes they’re only going keep hurting people and become less relevant,” Paul says.

The issue is personal for Paul, who was a devout Christian growing up. As a student at Oregon’s George Fox in the early 2000’s, Paul was frequently harassed and told being gay was evil. As a result he battled depression, was hospitalized for panic attacks, and sent to conversion therapy in the hopes that he would become straight.

He was embittered. It was only when he went away to law school in Michigan, where he attended churches that accepted him for who he was, that his anger calmed and he started questioning how his faith and sexuality could intersect.

Now, a full-time attorney at law firm back in Oregon, Paul dedicates his free time to On God’s Campus so that others don’t have to suffer what he did.

“I’m more of an ally to faith communities. A lot of the gay community hates the church, and for a very good reason. I’m trying in some ways to bridge that gap and also figure out where I stand myself, personally and theologically,” he says.

What he’s learned so far

The project is ongoing and a work in progress, but Paul’s realized some lessons along the way:

1. Dream big, but stay grounded.
Paul and his co-producer Tiffany Stubbert originally wanted to do 100 interviews with youth and alumni, but quickly realized that traveling to the campuses, many of which are rural and isolated, would be impractical. They’ve since scaled the number back to 50, and are close to finishing that number.

2. When the time is right, just go for it.
Right before he launched On God’s Campus, Paul suddenly started hearing about LGBT students groups popping up on campuses “like popcorn.” Wanting to take advantage of the national momentum  that he knew wasn’t going to stop, he and Tiffany hit the ground running, despite a small budget and a lack of a long-term plan.

3. Heart first, ego second.
Their website doesn’t focus on blabbering all about their project, or related news. It’s all about the stories: original content that travels far on social media because it’s real and people can relate.

“People love being able to share their story. There’s a huge sense of empowerment that comes with it,” Paul says. “It’s just that nobody has asked them before.”

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If you or anyone you know is a student or alumni of a conservative Christian college and would like to share your story, please send Paul a message at ongodscampus@gmail.com.

Keep up to date and get involved with On God’s Campus via Facebook and Twitter.

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Students: Social Innovation Competition is a chance to win cash

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Shining Hope, winner of the 2010 competition

Applications for Dell’s Social Innovation Competition are due February 14th. In conjunction with the University of Texas at Austin, Dell is giving away more than $100,000 in cash prizes to university (undergraduate and graduate) students from around the world with fresh ideas to solve social or environmental problems.

What’s great about this project is that Dell and UT are encouraging students to submit their ideas no matter where they are in the process. If your idea doesn’t include a business plan and you don’t quite know how to scale it or make it financially viable yet, don’t despair. You won’t win first place but you could be one of 30 students selected to receive mentoring and support to improve your idea’s chances of future success.

If you’re not a student, you can browse and vote up others’ ideas here. Be sure to check out the dates, deadlines and official rules over at the Dell Social Innovation website.

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Need a Graduation Gift for Someone Interested in Social Change?

Know someone who’s about to receive a diploma, isn’t quite sure how they’re going to use their new degree to change the world, and is in the thick of a job search (or about to be)? Consider giving the graduate a shiny hard copy of the Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers!

At the bookstore

Staff photo – we love seeing the book in stores!

If you go to college or grad school with the intention of becoming a doctor, an accountant, or a lawyer, it’s fairly clear-cut what you have to do: there are certain associations to join, certain conferences to attend, and certain courses that simply can’t be skipped. But if you want to earn a paycheck while addressing climate change, fighting for human rights, or working on other critical issues, and you think you might want to explore the nonprofit sector…well, the path can be a little more cloudy depending on what information you’ve been able to access so far.

These free books offer useful advice, strategies, and resources for those sorts of people. Written by the staff of Idealist.org and other experts, the books are available in two flavors (one edition for first-time job seekers, the other for sector switchers) and available as free PDFs. But now, if you want a gift for someone to unwrap, you can buy the printed versions from Hundreds of Heads books in independent bookshops or from Amazon, Borders, or Barnes & Noble.

Learn more about how to own (or gift!) a copy of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-Time Job Seekers or The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers.

Congratulations to the Class of 2010!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Student Loans for All

By Flickr user gabofr (Creative Commons)

Microfinance, a model well known for helping out small business owners throughout the world, is now being applied to student loans.

One such initiative, called Vittana (which I learned about through the TBD newsletter), has a premise like Kiva’s—people anywhere in the world can lend any amount they want ($25 is suggested) to the recipient of their choice, and the loan recipient eventually pays back the interest-free loan in full. In the case of Vittana, all of the loan recipients are students, studying a range of subjects from English to law to accounting. Right now, the students are all in Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru, where Vittana works with local microlending organizations to select loan recipients and distribute funds.

Another site, UniThrive, is experimenting with the microlending model at Harvard University, where they’ve set up a system for alumni to lend to students, interest-free. And if alumni wish to go beyond financial investment, they can choose to offer career advice and other forms of assistance to students. UniThrive hopes to expand to other schools soon, after its trial period at Harvard.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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