As the child of leftists who fought for the poor of El Salvador, but were forced to flee during the civil war, Gabriel Vidal grew up with a sense of social justice and a questioning mind. His parents worked on the West Side, his mother for 30 years as a housekeeper, his father as a valet parker. Gabriel admired their spirit, and the wear-withal of his older sister, who was undocumented and had to fight to get the classes she needed to enter college. She subsequently was the first in the family to go to college.
"At that age, I was witnessing this," Gabriel says. "Immigration, racism, poverty, even the differences between neighborhoods." He began to be politically involved in middle school, and was influenced by hardcore punk music.
"I had the feeling, I want to do something, because my parents did something. Why don't we speak up about things, you know?" He was kicked out of school for leading a walkout during the H.R. 4437 protests (in 2006, against the immigration reform bill). "That just gave me more fire to do something," Gabriel says. He was sent to the office by a teacher for participating in an LGBT day of silence, and was able to push the school into honoring national protests. From then on he attended more rallies and meetings, learning to organize along the way.
A couple of years later, Gabriel came out as transgender. "I felt like the whole world was against me," he says. He joined Gender Justice LA and interned with the Transform LA leadership program. All these experiences led Gabriel to his present job with the youth division of InnerCity Struggle, United Students, where he concentrates on Esteban Torres High School as a youth organizer. He's also active in Brothers, Sons, Selves.
"There's a heavy stigma around being a student from the Eastside," he says. "There's a huge lack of support and instead punitive practices that push students out of school and into prison. Students aren't being given the A through G classes necessary for getting into college, much less the AP classes that give students an advantage. So there are a lot of factors that Eastside students face, and that's why we do the work we do."
Recently Superintendent Michelle King visited the United Students office, where students and parents led a well-attended meeting and King was able to hear about students' needs. "It was a beautiful thing," Gabriel says. "My students are the best thing in my life. It's an honor and a privilege to work for the youth of InnerCity Struggle.
Just as sure as Gabriel is about his path being guided toward work in grass roots organizing and social justice, is his acknowledgement of how much of it wouldn't have been possible without Liberty Hill. "Almost all of my youth organizing experiences from the age of 15 to now 25 have been connected through the support of Liberty Hill," Gabriel says. It is Liberty Hill's funding of organizations that's always kept Gabriel connected to the work. His realization of the importance of funding grassroots social justice hits him deeply. "Come to think of it," Gabriel says, "without that money, a lot of this work, who knows?"
Liberty Hill has also helped Gabriel on a very personal level through his work with the Brother Sons Selves Coalition, a Liberty Hill led campaign. "My personal experience being trans, entering BSS was a little bit of a nervous and scary place," Gabriel explains. Up until that point in his life he had never really been welcomed into masculine or even sis-male spaces. "And so to have this kind of access through my job and through the social justice work has really helped to heal."