Our youth need us now more than ever

Posted: March 3rd, 2017 | Back Out With Benny, Columns, Featured | No Comments

By Ben Cartwright | Back Out With Benny

When I was a teenager growing up in San Diego, I didn’t have it so bad. I first realized I was gay at 15 years old in 1995 and was lucky to live in the San Diego suburb of Allied Gardens, a less-than-a-minute drive down the 8 freeway to Hillcrest. 

Of course, at 15, I wasn’t able to drive yet, but I was determined to get to Hillcrest — kids growing up in San Diego generally know that Hillcrest is where the “gay people” are, and I remember some of the taunts on the playground, “I heard your dad is gay and he goes to The Brass Rail.”

Even though my family was fairly accepting of my coming out, I wanted to get to this “magical place” called Hillcrest, that, without transportation, seemed so far away. Even though I was very savvy with the San Diego bus system at the time (it was worse than it is today!), I didn’t want to take a 45-minute bus ride to Hillcrest. Instead, I got creative and realized that from my neighborhood, if I biked up College Avenue past San Diego State, I could get to El Cajon Boulevard and ride out to Hillcrest. Of course, this bike ride took much longer than the bus ride would have.

Upon arriving at the corner of Park Boulevard and University Avenue, I was in absolute awe. I’ll never forget seeing a pair of men holding hands as they crossed the street and a rainbow flag on a couple of the buildings. I was too scared to go any further into the neighborhood, but I immediately felt like this place could be a place for me. I got my drivers license on my 16th birthday and the first place I drove to on my own was Carl’s Jr. — I was hungry and could eat fast food at the time without having to worry about my waistline — and then immediately drove to Hillcrest. It was a Friday evening so the neighborhood was full of nightlife energy. I just drove around University Avenue looking and getting excited about one day being a part of all that, rather than just watching it alone from my car (and boy have I become a part of all that!).

I eventually learned about The Center’s “Gay Youth Alliance,” which met on Friday nights at 7:30 p.m. and for months, I would drive past The Center (at its former location on Normal Street) around that time each Friday to watch the youth go inside. I wanted to see others like me, but being shy as I was, I just wasn’t ready to go in myself. One night I finally got up the courage to go into a meeting and met some cool youth. I also learned about some of the (now defunct) coffee shops where youth would hang out together in Hillcrest and from there I was introduced to this whole amazing community.

Since then, a number of incredible youth resources have popped up in our community, such as The Center’s Hillcrest Youth Center; a dedicated full-time support person for trans youth at The Center; and so many more. And of course, we have a number of national resources, many of them with local branches, like The Trevor Project, TransLifeLine, GLSEN, GSA Network, and so many others out there fighting for and supporting our LGBTQ youth.

But it’s never enough.

Even in fairly progressive places like San Diego, many LGBTQ youth are still being rejected by their families, some are even kicked out of their homes, making the percentage of LGBTQ homeless youth way out of proportion.

Across the nation, legislators are trying to strip trans youth of the much-needed protections that we’ve worked so hard to gain over the years and this never-ending nonsense about which bathroom transgender folks can use is evidence of the fear and hatred that still exists, and its effects on our youth are staggering.

I just read an article this morning that featured a volunteer at a LGBTQ youth suicide and support hotline who said that since the presidential election, the numbers of calls from youth in distress have skyrocketed.

With all the advances and progress made, our youth are still hurting and struggling. They need us!

Whatever you can do to be there for our youth is helpful. If you have the means, donate to LGBTQ youth-serving organizations so they can sustain their vital work. If you have time to give, find an organization that could use your volunteer skills. Donate clothes and toiletries to organizations that will provide them to homeless or unstably housed youth.

Most importantly, speak up! Continue to demand that legislators and school districts protect our youth — especially our trans youth. Write letters or emails, call their offices, visit their staff at their office to demand they support all kids.

As it’s been said, “the children are our future” — and our beautiful LGBTQ youth are a major part of that future, too!

Getting Out With Benny

Just over one more week until the time changes and we have some more sunlight in the day! I absolutely can’t wait.

Sunday Funday on Sunday, March 12 will be a fun one because the sun will be shining until at least 7 p.m.

Also that day, community member Ebony Mullins is hosting a fundraiser at VomFass in Hillcrest to benefit The Center’s #BeTheGeneration program. She’ll donate 50 percent of all bloody mary and mimosa sales to the cause between 11 a.m.–2 p.m. (and if you haven’t tried one Ebony’s famous bloodys, you’re missing out). More details will be posted on the #BeTheGeneration Facebook page –

One of my favorite events at The Center, Guys, Games & Grub, has a date change for March only! This fun social, board game, and live trivia night includes pizza, beer, wine, and other beverages for all attendees in a casual, relaxed environment. Everyone is welcome (not just “guys” anymore) and I guarantee you a good time! Join us on Wednesday, March 8 from 6-8:30 p.m. at The Center. Details –

Benny Cartwright (Photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography)

Finally, the San Diego LGBT Visitors Center will host its next monthly Haunted Hillcrest Ghost Tour on Friday, March 10 from 6:30-9 p.m. He has agreed to make this month’s tour a fundraiser for the Hillcrest Town Council, which I’m proud to serve on as vice chair. I hear the tour is really scary, and all participants get a lantern to carry on the tour, and there are stops at bars along the way (drinks will help take the frightful edge off). Details –

—Benny Cartwright is the director of community outreach at the San Diego LGBT Community Center. He can be reached at 619-692-2077 ext. 106 or Note: Byline photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography.

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