BY FRANCESCA LEWIS
You may have heard the name Dare2Care around the internets, back when they released their provocative and poignant “Words Kill” PSA in 2014, but you probably have no idea how much good work they are actually doing. The Ohio-based non-profit is all about educating teens and adults alike about LGBTQI issues, empowering people with accurate information about diverse identities and increasing awareness about LGBTQI-focused bullying. Sponsoring training programs for kids and medical professionals and hosting awareness-raising events, including an annual poetry competition with a scholarship prize, they are already doing so much to educate people and make space in the world for LGBTQI voices.
Dare2Care are raising funds on GoFundMe to roll out even more essential and important projects, including expanding their existing leadership programs and establishing a more formal presence in schools. I caught up with VP Liz O’Donnell to give her the chance to tell you in her own words about the strides this much-needed organisation has already made and plans, with your help, to make in the future.
Dare2Care may be most well-known online for their poignant PSA released last year, but your main focus is in education – not just of students but of teachers too. What made you decide to include adults in your training programs?
We decided to include teachers in our training programs because we are beginning our student leadership at the end of the high school freshman year when our participants are only 14/15 years old. It is a lot to ask young people to come back to their school environment with a lot of new information and implement creative and educational peer programming without having teacher-mentor support. By including teachers we ensure that there is a committed faculty presence to not only endorse the students initiatives but to facilitate implementation of cultural change within the administration. Also, both teachers and students are hearing the same material and therefore have a common language to discuss LGBTQI issues.
You’ve developed a Sex, Gender, and Diverse Identity curriculum for med students – can you explain a little about what that is and why it is important?
Yes, this has been an important development for us as an Organization. It is one of the benefits of the work we have been doing that perhaps many of our supporters do not yet know about. As a mental health professional and neonatal physical therapist I have worked in many acute care settings over my years of clinical practice and the absence of diversity education, particularly as it pertains to LGBTQ and inter-sex individuals, is poor. I worked in an intensive care nursery for over 10 years and was fortunate enough to experience the professional and personal struggle that families who have a child who is inter-sex face. We want, as an Organization, to change the dialogue at several points of the educational interface and given that we know that access to health-care, particularly mental health care, for LGBTQI clients, demonstrates significant inequity and misinformation, this elective course was one way for us to make a difference in medical education. Only a very small percentage of medical school in the United States have a mandatory curriculum that address the specific health-care needs of sexual minority populations. If we aren’t training our students then we don’t have clinicians who can change care at the point of delivery.
You also offer scholarships – what have been some of the success stories from this?
Our first cohort has been a stunning example of what information in the hands of young people can do. Some of their three year accomplishments include: starting an in school community called Club Identity, the development of LGBTQI inclusive literature, peer to peer educational workshop facilitation (in the community and other schools), participation in Cleveland Pride (with parents), expansion of Ally week, the celebration of the first cisgender male prom queen at the pilot high school, recipient of the transgender community award, and an extremely positive coming out experience for one of our initial student scholars. All of our first cohort of students are going onto college with a commitment to expand their work in the area of LGBTQI equality. One of our students was accepted into a highly competitive academic program that insists each participant commit to a 4 year long service project. We are fortunate enough that she has chosen to make our mission her thesis. There are many more accomplishments both macro and micro that show that we have made a difference not only in their lives but also in our own.
Dare2Care recently launched a GoFundMe – what are the aims of the fundraising project?
Now that we have completed our pilot study we would really like to expand the programming in a more formal way to other schools. This would allow more students to apply to the Dare2Care/GYLI summer leadership program and take back what they learn to their own environment. Cleveland has a significantly diverse population and each school community has their own needs with respect to addressing LGBTQI education – we would like each school to have the information necessary to create a culture that represents both our mission and their philosophical principles. We also plan to offer more local workshops that would allow for an even greater number of students to participate and act as ambassadors for the direction change that we know is coming in LGBTQI equality. We are still a small Organization often funded by our own personal financial contributions – we know that for our mission to be sustainable that has to change. We will be working to make another PSA that will perhaps to an even better job at highlighting the problems we address and what we are doing to help solve them.
In the list of Core Beliefs on your website, you state “LGBT focused bullying is not an LGBT issue, it is a human issue.” Can you expand on that a little?
I think that this is a fairly straight forward, simple, yet profound concept. We are saying that the rate of bullying and suicide in the LGBTQI population is a public health issue. It is not an issue that can only concern the community that it affects. We are talking about all of us, straight or LGBTQI, having a shared right to exist as human beings in safety and privilege, and by privilege I really mean the right to exist as we are without the fear of coming to harm simply because we don’t meet an externally imposed expected ‘norm’. Until we see ourselves as everybody’s child and everybody’s parent then the belief that some people can be treated with inequity will continue. We are not unrealistic in terms of the scope of this problem beyond our particular mission but we are especially focused on making some kind of meaningful change in our own community.
This interview has been edited for length.
Francesca Lewis is a queer feminist writer from Yorkshire, UK. She writes for Curve Magazine and The Human Experience as well as writing short fiction and working on a novel. Her ardent love of American pop culture is matched only by her passion for analyzing it completely to death.