The experience to form a GLSEN chapter in Hawaii is a unique one. When I originally moved to Hawaii over seven years ago, I had wanted to work towards helping LGBT youth in our schools. One recent example of when I realized something needed to be done is when an email was forwarded to me of a high school faculty member seeking out assistance for an LGBT student. Unable to go to the school’s administration, because of the contentious climate in the school community, they sought support in assisting a gay student. This was one of the first instances I realized I needed to do something. This is just one personal example and over the years I have heard more personal stories, from others, about students who weren’t able to use the bathroom at their school safely because of their gender identity, or elementary school students having homophobic remarks said to them without appropriate intervention by the school personnel. Moments like these and the realization that there was a gap in services & outreach to assist LGBT students in schools that I decided it was my kuleana (responsibility) to take action.
Beginning this journey was a bit unnerving; however, the GLSEN national office has been there to assist in guiding us along this process. When I initially contacted GLSEN at start this journey, I was immediately connected with a chapter buddy. Through emails and phone calls, they were able to make sure we were fully informed of the necessary steps needed to become an accredited chapter. At our initial steering committee meeting, we were fortunate enough to have a representative from the GLSEN national office present to sit in and answer any question we had; having someone who was originally from Hawaii also helped put some of our cultural concerns at ease. Hawaii is different from any other state. We are spread across various islands, yet we are one state. In forming our steering committee, the idea was to be as cohesive as possible. As such, liaison positions to provide fair representation from each major island, was absolutely essential. Moreover, each island and community has different needs given their respective populations, and they would be supported by their respective island liaison. Along with these individuals, we felt it was pertinent to have a “Native Hawaiian Liaison.” In Hawaii, the native population is something that is not only respected but infused in all aspects of our community. Having someone who brings this experience to the table was vital to our vision. This person would ensure that as a local organization, we are bringing a greater awareness to the community at large about needs of Native Hawaiian LGBT youth. The subtle nuances that exist across Hawaii have earned our state the reputation of being the “melting pot” of the pacific. It has served to make our state more vibrant and diverse over the years and is something as a chapter we strive to embrace and reflect. Overall, this experience has been fulfilling. I am humbled in witnessing so many people being connected to our chapter and by our chapter forming in the interest of supporting LGBT youth. From the many people who were willing to sign up with us at the 2012 Honolulu AIDS Walk for Life, to the many organizations that have already voiced their support and willingness to work together in the future. We look forward to a continued effort to build upon our existing network of community leaders and organizations. Our efforts to create a better Hawaii for LGBT youth has only been galvanized with the outpouring of aloha (love) from individuals in the Hawaii Department of Health, Hawaii Department of Education, various heads from other state departments, and faculty in the School of Social Work at both the University of Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific University. We know this is just the start. We will continue to add more people onto our email list as the movement builds here across the islands. The growing interest and support, especially in the outer islands, only shows the similar dilemmas being faced by LGBT youth in every community and the need for training, policies and practices to be put in place. We are thrilled to be spearheading the movement in Hawaii and hope our efforts make an impact on our schools in making them safe and inclusive for ALL our keiki (youth). Nick Aiello Co-Chair GLSEN Hawaii - Steering Committee If you'd like to get involved with the Hawai'i chapter steering committee, email firstname.lastname@example.org