Being Gay & Serving in AmeriCorps
Today’s guest post comes from Chad Jeremy Davis, the Chapter President of Seattle AmeriCorps Alums. He is from San Diego and has traveled all over the United States in service to communities. He currently resides in Seattle, WA.
Happy Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) Pride Month! As June comes to a close and Pride celebrations all around this country wrap up I thought I’d take an opportunity to reflect on my experience serving in AmeriCorps as an out LGBT individual.
I served between January 2004 and December 2005 in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) at the Atlantic Region in Perry Point, MD. I was 22 years old when I started my service and I had been openly gay since I was 16 years old. My biggest fear was the idea of a residential program that was built on aspects of military culture. I knew I had a desire to serve my country that was central to my being; yet, I also (thought I) knew that military-like residential environments and rural communities were hostile to lesbians and gays not to mention transgendered or bisexual individuals.
I was afraid of how the staff and fellow members would treat me or how well I would integrate into this thing called AmeriCorps. I also knew that I would travel to communities that were different and far away from my own. Needless to say, I had a lot of anxiety around this decision I had made to serve. However, my desire to serve was even greater than those anxieties so I packed up my bags and left for Maryland.
I can honestly say it was an amazing and transformative experience, which isn’t to say it was without its challenges. What I experienced was that my fears, while understandable, did not come to fruition. I came to know people that would become some of my best friends. One in particular never had known a gay person before he met me. I helped him change his opinion on LGBT people and I did so just by being myself. The staff always treated me with respect and dignity and many have become long-time trusted advisors and mentors.
There were times when I did face certain bias and judgments from sponsoring organizations or community members, as did many other members on my team (women, individuals of color, atheists, and anyone else that was different from the identity of those with power and privilege). However, my team always came together during those challenging times to support each other. I came to respect that experience as part of the process of sparking change in attitudes.
In fact, I would argue that service is a great equalizer.
I was able to engage in conversations that I would never have if I weren’t serving alongside people with opinions different from my own. I would encourage, without hesitation, any LGBT individual interested in serving in AmeriCorps to do so! It is an experience you won’t forget.
LGBT AmeriCorps Alums and allies alike can continue to volunteer with the LGBT community.
One area in particular is combating homophobia and bullying in schools. You can get involved with a LGBT youth center like I have, volunteer with a crisis hotline, a school based anti-bullying campaign or many other projects. There is another way we can lend our assistance, one that we are particularly well positioned as Alums to do – Tell more people, ESPECIALLY those that are different from yourself about AmeriCorps. I am not oblivious to the fact that while I am gay, I am also white, male identified, and from a just barely middle-class family.
If service is to continue to be the great equalizer I claim it is, than we need more individuals that come from different backgrounds and identities to be serving alongside us and alongside the communities we serve in solidarity with so that AmeriCorps becomes a model for the kind of world we want to create.
For another perspective on LGBT service in AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, check out the 2009 Idealist podcast that Chad participated in here.