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Be Kind, Be Brave, Show Your Pride on a Beige Background

By Juan Acosta, Youth Intern at Born This Way Foundation and member of Mental Health America’s Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council

As 2020 began, we didn’t expect for our lives to be altered in such a tremendous way. We all looked forward to birthdays, graduations, Pride month celebrations, and milestone events, but our vision for what we were going to try to achieve this year was challenged by our current time of uncertainty due to the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s emotional and mental health, and it’s important now more than ever that we look out for one another.

The concept of looking out for one another is not a new one, but it can be difficult to truly grasp and execute. Showing up for others can be unifying and life-changing, and the Black Lives Matter movement presents us with an opportunity to hold proactive conversations and come together as a collective to support one another and stand up against injustice. The Black Lives Matter movement complements Pride month. I view Pride celebrations as a community speaking up against injustice and making themselves visible. Pride was built on Black queer riots, and leaders like Marsha P. Johnson.  In a time where many people, including myself, are feeling more isolated and stressed than usual, we know that kindness and unity are appreciated now more than ever. We are all seeking support, understanding, and real and thoughtful conversations. We all want change, justice, and this Pride month we want to emphasize that Black Lives Matter.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I must acknowledge that the safe spaces to have these conversations are extremely important to me. I am lucky and grateful to have a safe space both at home and online. However, a safe space at home is not the case for many other LGBTQ+ community members. LGBTQ+ people have a harder time finding kindness, especially in physical spaces in their own communities (Born This Way Foundation, 22, 2017).  In fact, 74% of transgender young people surveyed have agreed with the statement, “I go online to find people to relate to because it’s hard for me to find people to relate to in my daily life.” For approximately 52% of the LGBTQ+ individuals surveyed, digital communities act as a source of comfort. This feeling of comfort is crucial, especially during these trying times, where many are being told to stay at home —  a place that may not be physically, emotionally, or mentally safe — which is why ensuring that people have a positive, accepting, and encouraging online community is so important.

As I reflect on my platform and what I see on the web, I often ask myself if what I am uploading will contribute positively to someone’s day. Doing so is my way to ensure that I am making my social media feed a safe space for all. Sharing resources for those who come across my feed is something that I’m now doing more often, and it is additionally an activity I am encouraging others to do as well.

These uncertain times have left many of us with questions. We all want to know how we can support and be there for one another. Many of us have had numerous video calls every day. While others have opted for phone calls or texts to stay in touch with their loved ones. While those are all great ways to stay connected, when trying to support others, we have to dive deep and have proactive conversations. We must also ensure that we’re checking in with ourselves and our own mental health, and capacity is crucial. Being honest about how we are feeling and recognizing our experiences is extremely important. We cannot be there for others if we’re not taking care of ourselves.

Lastly, using available resources is also very helpful. If you are struggling or need someone to talk to, I recommend using warm lines and other telephone/text lines that might be able to provide you with the support you need and might be looking for.

Juan Acosta is a Mental Health and LGBTQ+ advocate and national speaker.  Born in Jalisco, MX, Juan has dedicated his life to the community and advocacy. He began doing community service at age 13 and raked up more than 200+ community service hours by age 15, receiving recognition from nonprofits and government agencies. Since then, Juan has collaborated with numerous organizations including Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation on their Channel Kindness Platform, California's Mental Health Services Oversight & Accountability Commission, and Mental Health America. In addition, Juan drafted a historic LGBTQ+ proclamation for the city of Woodland CA, served as Assistant Director of the Queer Alliance Club at San Francisco State, where he graduated with a Bachelor's in Psychology. Juan is currently an Assistant Manager for the California Warm Line and Program Intern for Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation. He is also a contributor in Born This Way Foundation & Lady Gaga's new book, "Channel Kindness."