Avery Green, our Special Events Coordinator and new Big Brother, shared his story with our team this month in celebration of his new match and our Big Pride Mentoring Program.
My new Little Brother recently came out as gay. As soon as his coming out story was shared with me, I knew that I wanted to be a mentor for him. I wished for an LGBTQ+ mentor when I was his age and I had a feeling we could learn a lot from each other.
We were matched through Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Big Pride program, which connects LGBTQ+ children with LGBTQ+ mentors, in partnership with OutFront Kalamazoo. Our match meeting took place virtually and I met my Little for the first time over Facebook video chat. We were both nervous and excited but our Match Support Specialist was there to ensure the meeting went smoothly. My Little Brother was very shy at first but quickly opened up as our conversation progressed. He loves video games and was thrilled to hear that I spend some of my free time playing Pokemon.
I also got to meet my Little’s mom during our meeting. She was very excited that her son was going to have another LGBTQ+ person that he could talk to and that she would have someone she could turn to for support. “I just want someone to be there for him,” she said. What made our first match meeting even more special is that it happened at the beginning of Pride Month.
As a gay man, a typical Pride Month for me is usually spent on self-care, like getting my teeth whitened and checking in with the dermatologist. I also do my best to visit a different local Pride celebration every weekend during the month of June. This year, however, all of the in-person celebrations in our region were canceled or moved online due to COVID-19. This was the best decision for our communities and even though I understood why everything was canceled, I still couldn’t help but feel like this year’s Pride was heavier than any I’ve experienced since coming out over 10 years ago.
Next, on May 25, George Floyd’s death ignited protests against police brutality and racial injustice around the world. The LGBTQ+ community took to the streets alongside our Black brothers and sisters to fight for justice and equality.
The LGBTQ+ community is no stranger to riots. The first Pride was a riot, after all. The Stonewall Riots of 1969 served as the catalyst for the LGBTQ+ equality movement when Marsha P. Johnson, a Black Trans woman, threw the first brick at police officers who were brutally arresting LGBTQ+ people for just existing.
The Black Lives Matter movement is important to me because, as a gay man, I understand what it feels like to be the only “other” person in a room. I know how it feels to be profiled based on qualities I possess that I have no control over. I will never understand what it means to be Black or experience what Black people go through in this world, but I stand with them in solidarity. In the midst of these historic moments for the Black and LGBTQ+ communities, I was matched with my Little.
We are what Big Brothers Big Sisters call a “Virtual Match”, which means we meet at least once every other week virtually – via phone, text, video chat, Zoom, etc. for 30-60 minutes. We have met three times now, and each time, we ended up playing at least three hours of Fortnite, a video game he introduced to me. We wear headsets while playing, so we have conversations while we work together as a team to beat the other players. It’s been a great way to connect because we are working on a common goal, so while we’re getting to know one another we never have to struggle to find something to talk about.
Even more importantly, my Little has made Pride Month a little less heavy. Having something else to focus on this month, when so much is happening in the world, has been beneficial for us both. Now that “Safer at Home” restrictions have been eased we will be allowed to meet in person for the first time, as long as we follow social distancing guidelines (meaning we’ll have to stay 6 feet apart and meet outdoors).
Our first meeting is planned for next week and we are very excited to finally meet in the real world. When indoor meetings are allowed again, we’ll also go on his first trip to Glitch Gaming and since I know that he likes burgers, there will be a lot of Five Guys in our future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to learn a lot from each other and I’ll become part of his support system as he navigates being a young gay person in this world.
Happy Pride and Black Lives Matter!