San Diego County Library’s third annual Pride & Identity celebration at El Cajon Branch

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Gay pride, sexual identity, mental illness, religious beliefs are just a few of the stigma’s the San Diego County Library addressed at its Song of Myself Pride & Identity Celebration held at the El Cajon Library Branch on Saturday.

Gay pride, sexual identity, mental illness, religious beliefs are just a few of the stigma’s the San Diego County Library addressed at its Song of Myself Pride & Identity Celebration held at the El Cajon Library Branch on Saturday.

Through the use of music, poetry, art and human interaction, the event tackled many of today’s stereotypes in an entertaining and educational way. Kicking off the event, 30 members of the San Diego Women’s Chorus, directed by Chris Allen, sang melodies pertaining to human rights, diversity, peace, love and women’s rights from oppression aged spirituals to Alicia Keys “Girl on Fire.” Intermixed in the musical repertoire, the Black Storytellers of San Diego, which embodies the art of Black storytelling, read passages depicting the history, heritage and culture of African Americans.

Chelsea Harris, Librarian I, Community Relations said this is the San Diego County Library’s 3rd Annual Pride and Identity Celebration and first year at the El Cajon Branch. She said the entertainment and exhibits all had a purpose in portraying equality and diversity.

Through the Lens exhibit had two photos representing mental images on what people with mental disorders feel like and then another photo that represented who they really are. Each had a small essay describing what they feel like when people find out they have a mental disorder and the other described who they are, what they do and what they want to be seen as rather than their mental illness. People represented in the photos were available to speak with.

Harris said the Human Library began in Denmark as a way to introduce different communities interactively. Formed after some youth group’s friend was murdered this idea now has travelled all over the world.

“We have 14 different living books (people) available for checkout and the people represent different stereotypes, group of people,” said Harris. “We have a broad variety from transgender to youth homelessness and the idea is that by talking to people and hearing their perspective people will hopefully lessen their prejudices. By exposing yourself to different people and ideas instead of making judgment by frequency of notion of that person or group perception in your eyes are like, you will know them as a person and realize that you may be wrong.”

People checked out the “Human Books” for 15-minute spans and for two hours, the Human Library was completely checked out. Human books available for checkout included bipolar disorder, born into Islam, dyslexic, gay-married-teacher-librarian, transgender-HIV-positive-foster youth, queer homeless youth, homeless, homeschooled teen, lesbian, living with mental illness, pagan, stand up comedian, undocumented immigrant and vegan feminist.

Human Book “Queer Youth Homeless” Indie Landrum said queer youth homeless makes up about 40 to 50 percent of the homeless population although they only make up about 10 percent of the overall population. 

“Growing up I was homeless off and on a lot, mainly because we were poor and my mom had an addiction problem,” she said. “It is over now and we are super close and she is my best friend. Growing up was difficult in maneuvering through my life, much less a home so I ran away at 16.”

 Landrum said she lived on friend’s couches, tried moving in with her girlfriend, but her parents despised her so she left and found out about Storefront Shelter, where she now works. She lived there for six months before moving into a group home run by Father Joe’s Villages. 

“I went through its after-youth program after I turned 18,” she said. “I had a studio they rent out to graduates at 30 percent of your income. That was really good for me in my situation. I now work in a program for drug and alcohol prevention. Right now we are working on Pride, which is next weekend. We hold a big dance every year at 2220 Broadway in San Diego as a place for youth to come and celebrate Pride, we march in the parade and this year we have a booth at the festival.”

Landrum said it is important to know that if you are gay and homeless, you are not alone. Go to Storefront Shelter. If you are over 18 go to the San Diego Gay and Lesbian Center.

“There is no reason for you to sleep on the street because there is help out there,” she said. “I wish I had found out about Storefront sooner. It is such a great resource. Even if you are over 18, go to Storefront and they will help you.”

Steve Montgomery, Human Book “Gay, Married, Teacher, Librarian” said this event is a good resource to raise awareness. He married his partner in 2008, the day before the Proposition 8 election. 

“We saw which way the voting was headed and we also wanted to be a part of that statement, because we have now been together for 32 years,” said Montgomery. “

He said as a new teacher hired at Valhalla High School in 1990, many of his friends were concerned with him working in East County, but it was a good job and he wanted to do it. He said that there was some challenges with the District in the 90s when they tried to put sexual orientation in the classroom and began rethinking his working in East County. 

“But people have the same generalizations about East County that it is only full of very conservative people,” he said. “But there is a whole range of lifestyles, beliefs and attitudes here. So I realized I could be who I am and now I am at El Cajon Valley High School and been there for eight years.”

He said it is amazing now, since the 90s the changes he has seen in student attitudes, the District’s actions it is a really great place to work. He is now in my 24th year of teaching.

“It is not like it is a topic of discussion in the classroom, but in general observance, students are much more accepting now of gay teens,” he said. “I still think it is harder for boys than for girls, because boys have much more of an investment in not being seen as gay. But I see a lot more people addressing it now and speaking up about it when they see this type of thing. I think it has to do with visibility. Most people know someone now where religion, race and sexual orientation stereotypes come into play.”

Prizila Vidal, Human Book “Transgender, HIV-positive, Foster Youth” works at the county library as a library technician. Videl lived in foster care since six, kicked out by her parents for being a gay boy.

“I went through 12 different youth homes and two foster homes,” she said. “I went to my first foster home at 16 and it was a gay couple. But back in the 90s they were still not accepted and their license was pulled because people were complaining that a gay couple could not raise a child.”

Placed in a new foster home, they rejected her because of her sexual preference. She said she begged them to let her stay until she finished high school. They agreed by letting her live in the garage until after school and then lived homeless for two years.

“Then a good program opened up downtown called the Sunburst Apartments, for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender youth and went through a program where they match you up with a county job,” she said. “Miraculously, the library has been able to keep me on year after year. Then I found out I was HIV-positive in 2005.”

In 2011 Vidal went to nursing school wanting to learn more about HIV and earned her nursing license. She worked for a gastroenterology practice in Coronado, and then went to work for a foster agency called New Alternatives, wanting to be a foster youth care specialist. There was a company called Playwright’s Projects that wrote a play about her life and now she is working on a book.

“Being transgendered, I would tell young people now that it is okay and to embrace it,” said Vidal. “If you know what you are, whether going from male to female or female to male go ahead and start it. The way I grew up, it was just another problem to bring up, so I didn’t start hormone therapy until last year. I wish I could have done it when I was younger. But now, I am just happy that I am able to do it. I feel good about my life now.”

José Aponte, San Diego County Library director said three years ago, staff told him they wanted to celebrate with a Pride festival.

“Why not?” he said. “But then, in one of my darkest moments, it was a Thursday and I was driving home and I got a phone call asking if I could change a program and I said I had the power to change schedule, but why would I? This is First Amendment protected speech. We are indeed the United States of America, a free and open society. The public library is democracy’s greatest promise.”

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