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    The Importance of Organizations Created by LGBTQ+ People to Meet Our Community’s Needs

    By Jack Beck–

    I knew I was different for as long as I can remember. I sometimes talked or moved in a way that drew attention and ridicule for being effeminate. I didn’t know there was a word for it, but I knew it was bad. 

    I had learned the word “gay” by the time I was 11 or 12, and I knew that’s probably what I was. But I was still terrified to come out. I grew up in the 1990s and had seen images of gay men dying of AIDS on the television, and people would say that they deserved it. That was how I understood my future. There weren’t many other models at the time.  

    Of course, teenagers being teenagers—even with the specter of death hanging around—I eventually found my way into situations with other guys. It was all PG-13 stuff until I was 16, when I had an encounter with a much older man that I was not at all prepared for. It became sexual when I was not ready, and I left that encounter feeling terrified I had been exposed to HIV. 

    I was not out of the closet, and as a result I could not talk to my parents, my friends, or my teachers about what had happened or what to do about it. I was scared and felt completely alone. 

    I knew they did HIV testing at Planned Parenthood, thanks to my girlfriends who got their birth control there, so I drove to the one across town to avoid running into them. When I arrived, I explained the situation, and they said they could not confirm a negative test result until six months after exposure. “Come back then.”

    I was devastated. Without any resolution in sight, I became severely depressed. My grades tanked and my teachers asked me what was going on, but I was too scared to tell them. Things became very dark. 

    And then one day I drove by a clinic in the gay part of town with a sandwich board outside offering HIV testing. Although I was nervous, I parked my car and walked up the stairs into their office. 

    Immediately I knew this was a place where I could be myself. I walked right up to the person behind the front desk and spilled my guts, telling him everything that had happened from start to finish. When I was finally done talking, he stood up and walked around the desk and gave me a big hug. It was exactly what I needed. I didn’t feel alone anymore.

    He explained that actually there were oral tests that can give you a result in 15 minutes if I could wait, and he sat me down with their clinician for a consultation. And just like that, the entire ordeal was over. By going to a clinic created by gay people for gay people, I found the support and resources I needed when I had nowhere else to turn. 

    I ended up coming out later that year to little fanfare. My family was accepting to the point of nonchalance, and I wondered why I had been so scared to tell them in the first place. But the importance of organizations created by LGBTQ+ people to meet our own community’s needs has stuck with me ever since. 

    As soon as I graduated college, I started working in LGBTQ+ nonprofits like the one that helped me, and six years ago I left my full-time job to start TurnOut. At TurnOut our mission is to mobilize our communities to power queer and trans movements. We work all year to recruit a robust and passionate cadre of volunteers to support the nonprofits that LGBTQ+ communities depend on. Today, we have over 5,000 volunteers in our network, supporting more than 150 LGBTQ-focused nonprofits across California.

    That clinic I walked into when I was 16 may have saved my life, and LGBTQ+ nonprofits continue to do that work every day—for unhoused LGBTQ+ youth, for LGBTQ+ folks struggling with mental health, for LGBTQ+ elders who don’t have biological children to help support them, and so much more. 

    Our nonprofits depend on us as much as we depend on them. I’m very proud of the work we do to help care for the organizations that have cared for me and so many others. If you would like to dedicate some of your time to volunteering to support them, I hope you’ll consider joining us!

    Jack Beck is the Executive Director of TurnOut, a nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing communities to power queer and trans movements. For more information:

    Published on January 27, 2022