By Ben Cartwright | Back Out With Benny
With Labor Day this weekend, many students have already gone back to school, and if they haven’t, they likely will next week. This time of year is always nostalgic for me, as I spent the first 13 years of my adult life being involved in higher education, either as a student or as an employee at San Diego State. And while I still visit SDSU a few times a week to use the gym and pool complex there (which reminds me of a funny story I’ll share later), I do miss working with college students and their energy.
When people do ask me how they can get involved, the methods I share may be different for each person, but the one response that is always the same is: Show up. At SDSU, when I entered as a freshman in 1998, I showed up to the LGBT Student Union. Through that, I learned that there was a lot of work to do on campus to make the university a more LGBT-friendly place. I kept showing up for many years and through those experiences, became connected to outside organizations and other folks in the community. That was my path.
For someone who is just starting out with their involvement in the community, the path will be different, but I will always share the same advice about showing up. If there is an organization one wants to be part of — show up! If there is an event one wants to help make better — show up! If one wants to work toward wiping away an inequality — show up!
I love to sit down with community members and map out what their interests and reasons for getting involved are. I encourage folks who are thinking about getting involved to really think about what it is they want to do. Are they interesting in helping LGBTQ youth have a better present and future? Do they want to help end homelessness? Are they interested in being part of community events that bring people together?
By figuring out exactly what and why one wants to get involved, the better they can focus on finding the right opportunity.
One of the biggest pitfalls I have seen for those trying to get involved is over-extending themselves. Again, it’s kind of like trying to take on multiple New Year’s resolutions in one year (it’s really hard to try to lose weight, save money, and spend more time with family, all at once!). Taking on one or two involvement opportunities and really stepping up and getting involved is the best way to get started.
Getting involved at 18 years old literally changed the path of my life. It exposed me to so many people, organizations, and community needs and I have since dedicated my life to serving the LGBTQ and social justice communities. While not everyone needs to dedicate their life to the cause, getting involved is a great way to change perspective and give back.
For anyone who is thinking about finding ways to get involved, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’d love to sit down with you over tea or wine to talk about it and steer you in the right direction.
And that funny story about the gym and pool at SDSU: Some of you may recall that earlier this summer during Pride week, Finest City Improv did an entire show based on my life. During the show, I came on stage three times while they asked me questions about people, places, events and things in my life, and then they would do hilarious improv skits based on the information I shared. I mentioned during one of the Q&A sessions that I used to work at SDSU, but still use the pool and gym on campus. The improv skit that followed was hilarious, and it was about a person who left their job but still came back to use the water cooler and office supplies — because they used to work there. At least I got a laugh out of it!
Get out with Benny
Speaking of getting involved, I continue to highly recommend to all LGBTQ/ally young professionals 21– 40 years old to check out The Center’s Young Professionals Council (YPC). The group has a monthly series held in a different fun venue with brief programs on important topics and lots of time to mix and mingle with like-minded individuals. YPC’s next First Tuesday Series event is on Tuesday, Sept. 6 from 6:30–8 p.m. at Gossip Grill. The event will include a brief presentation on “Smashing Stigma.” Visit tinyurl.com/zlveofg.
Of course, we’re in full swing for AIDS Walk & Run San Diego, which is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 24. This event is the largest single day HIV/AIDS fundraiser in San Diego County, and raises funds for over a dozen service providers in town. Even if you can’t make it on the day of (or prefer to sleep-in), your support as a “Virtual Walker” is vital to helping us raise needed funds. Learn more and register at aidswalksd.org.
If you thought Pride season was over, you were wrong! South Bay Pride Art & Music Festival is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10 at Bayside Park in Chula Vista. This event is a lot of fun, and is a much lower-key version of the bigger San Diego Pride event held in July. A lot of folks in central San Diego are afraid to drive to Chula Vista thinking it’s so far away, but it’s only 10 minutes by car from Downtown San Diego. Consider checking out this free pride festival. Visit tinyurl.com/hztlsfb.
Enjoy these final days of summer!
—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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: Byline photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography.