mail

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Posted: March 31st, 2017 | Editorial, Featured, Opinions | No Comments

My second ‘coming out’

By Fernando Lopez

In some ways it’s hard to believe that it’s been almost four years since I was raped. Thankfully most days go by now where it doesn’t cross my mind, but that’s due to having had immediate access to health care, mental health services and relationships that gave me an understanding of who to turn to for help and at which agencies.

Far too many are not so lucky.

Life’s hardships forced me to become a fighter at a very young age. From being bullied all through school, to homelessness, to being denied access to care and services because of my sexual orientation … I’ve learned how to speak up and fight back. So when this new horror found its way to my life, I did what I always do, and fought.

At first it was being brave enough to tell the people I loved the most. In some ways that was the hardest thing I had to do, because I felt I was breaking them, too, by passing on my pain.

The more I shared, the more love and support I got. Yes, there were a few slut-shaming exceptions, but those people aren’t in my life anymore. The more I shared, the better I felt, and the more I began to hear, “Oh my God, me too” from a surprising number of people.

It was hearing this from so many that drove me to come out anonymously in SDGLN, and it was then the outpouring of yet more “Oh my God, me toos” which followed that led me to come out publicly. It was startling to learn that many had never told anyone before, not even their friends or partners. Most had never sought treatment for their physical or mental wellbeing.

Those who had pursued help found what I had also experienced, a lack of resources, care, or compassion for gay, bi and trans men who had been raped. Most of the materials were geared towards women and the ones that were geared towards men were very focused on the “shame around being perceived to be gay.”

These “resources” were very heteronormative and hurtful, even though roughly 40 percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime.

It happens more than we know

Ever since I started down this path, I have had more and more friends who have been drugged and/or raped here in San Diego and it crushes my heart every time.

Rape and sexual violence are deeply underreported crimes, particularly in the LGBTQ community. The underreporting gets worse across lines of race and immigration status, and yet six rapes have already been reported in 92103 so far this year.

As more and more survivors continued to come out to me once I had gone public, many asked what they could do to help. After two years of taking time to focus on my own healing, I began getting small group of us together — including fellow survivors Christopher Sheehan and Walter Castaneda, and our dear friend Benny Cartwright — to meet on a monthly basis to see what we could do to help.

We then brought in local LGBTQ member Liat Wexler from the Center for Community Solutions (CCS) and Heather Marino-Kibbee from the San Diego LGBT Community Center (The Center) to join these efforts.

While it has been a relatively slow process, since that time, The Center and CCS have met and worked more closely together on ensuring that LGBTQ competent survivor advocacy and mental healthcare are available, with efforts to expand these services. There are even plans to host LGBTQ competent survivor resources on their websites, the possible creation of a survivor group and community bar staff intervention trainings in the future.

Additionally, with the hopes of bettering the care and competency on the part of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), Cheli Mohamed — who sits on the police chief’s LGBT advisory board — and SDPD’s LGBT liaison, Sgt. Daniel Meyer, helped me set up a meeting with Assistant Police Chief Albert Guaderrama, who also committed to supporting our efforts.

Helping others or yourself

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Each of us can play a role in being advocates for survivors. Listen to them. Trust them. Watch your “rape jokes” — they aren’t funny and can be very harmful. Stop slut-shaming people. Educate yourself and ask for better consent-based sex education for our youth. Ask for better funding for detectives to assist and process rape cases. Demand easier access to healthcare tools, like PrEP and PEP.

If you’re in need of support, seek it. If you are survivor who is ready to come out of that closet, speak up. There is no shame in being a survivor. There are more of us than you know.

Remember, you can invite someone into your home, your bed and even your body, but those boundaries are yours to define and control.

I have to give huge credit to my mother who used to sing “My Body” by Peter Aslop to me when I was little. “My body’s nobody’s body but mine. You run your own body, let me run mine!”

I also have to give a huge thank you to San Diego Pride, who has supported me on this journey; Dr. Delores Jacobs at The Center for her steadfast guidance; my father for standing by my side; and my partner David, who has brought love and intimacy back to my life.

All my heart and love to all those who are working so diligently to take this dark toxic thing and turn it into something bright and beautiful.

Engage during SAAM

The Center’s Young Professionals Council (YPC) group’s monthly First Tuesday Series will focus on SAAM, with a short presentation by Liat Wexler, followed by a discussion about sexual assault. The event will take place at Refill Café, located at 3752 Park Blvd. in Hillcrest. For more information, contact TPC co-chair Jeremy Bloom at Jeremy.bloom@alumni.umw.edu.

Also, the survivor’s group mentioned above — for GBT male and “masculine of center” survivors — will meet Monday, April 10 at 10:30 a.m. at San Diego Pride offices, located at 3620 30th St. in North Park.

—Fernando Lopez is the operations director of San Diego LGBT Pride and the co-founder of the GBT Survivors Group. He can be reached at fernando@sdpride.org.

Leave a Comment