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Young Organizer Series: Ronnie Veliz, GSA Network

By Joe Rihn

GSA

Liberty Hill supports youth leaders in L.A. not only through grantmaking but also through coalition-building and training. As the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement continues to build, we have seen how transformative those youth-led coalitions are.

Last August, as young people of color led a protest against the death of Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man killed by police, some of the most visible supporters flew rainbow flags. The LGBTQ demonstrators were members of the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition as members of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Network, one of the twelve community-based groups making up the youth-led coalition.

“People were not expecting the outness of the intersection of gay and black and brown and queer and trans,” says Ronnie Veliz, 29, Southern California Program Manager of the GSA Network.  “It was very empowering to hear young people talking about solidarity.”

For the GSA Network, empowering young people means supporting students who fall into multiple marginalized groups, such as youth who identify both as LGBTQ and as a person of color and/or as an immigrant. GSA members have mobilized in recent months not only for youth killed by police but also for one of their own alums who is undocumented and experienced violence in Mexico and detention in the U.S. The successful effort to free Yordy Cancino, says Ronnie, shows how “the intersectional movement led by youth of color is alive.”

“Students who are LGBT youth of color are disproportionately being pushed out of schools,” says Ronnie,  partly because bullying presents unique challenges for LGBTQ students. “In defending themselves they are getting suspended,” he explains, adding that LGBTQ students of color are "being criminalized for expressing their gender in a way that is not the norm and also because of the color of their skin.”

GSA2The GSA Network also organizes where queer and immigration issues meet. “We emphasize being at the intersection of the immigrant identity and the queer/trans identity,” Ronnie says. The organization encourages people to contact them with immigration questions, and works to connect undocumented people with the resources they need. Having a support network is crucial for undocumented LGBTQ youth who face the challenge of a “double coming out.”

The organization demonstrated its importance as a support network for undocumented people in 2014 when Yordy Cancino, a young GSA alum was detained because of his immigration status. Despite graduating with honors from high school and being admitted to college, Yordy lacked the financial resources to continue his education in the United States. He sought educational opportunities in Mexico, but faced discrimination and violence.