Cam & Cheyne
At 19 and 21 years old, Cheyne and Cam never expected that coming to The Door for stable housing and college preparation would take them across the country to Denver, Colorado to participate in a national conference with nearly 4,000 other people. Cheyne and Cam have each only been members at The Door for about a year, and they both joined the LGBT Theater Alliance to find an additional space where they would feel safe to grow and create. Their personal growth was so remarkable that the two were chosen by The Door’s Supervisor for Training and Community Engagement Elise Schuster to represent the theater alliance at a major national LGBTQ conference.
Creating Change is the largest annual gathering of activists, organizers and leaders in the LGBTQ movement in the country. Many of the participants are professional social workers and – as Elise notes – the conference can be intimidating to people who are younger or who don’t have a professional background.
Despite being out of their comfort zone, both Cheyne and Cam embraced the experience. “I learned a lot about expressing my opinion without judgment, and about doing my part to speak my mind to shed light on issues that affect me as young person that some of the others might not have known about,” Cheyne said. “I learned how to overcome a lot of barriers, and I know I’m bringing that back with me to my life overall. I also got to learn more about how to spark leadership and empower other people my age, which was really interesting,” Cam added. Cam – who is a member of The Door’s Youth Council – also noted that he felt many of the lessons he gathered from the conference would help him be more active and outspoken now that he’s returned.
“I was just so proud of them speaking up in a forum that really could have closed them down. It can be really intimidating, and they did such a great job,” Elise said of the pair. One activity she mentioned being especially proud of was the group meetups after the workshops had ended for the day; every night, a group of young people who were involved in LGBTQ theater had meetings to decompress and share their experiences. Cam and Cheyne both helped set the agenda for those meetings, and came up with innovative games and activities for the group to play to help them examine important social issues, like power dynamics.
“I think the whole thing really opened me up. I was closed off to a lot. But now, I want to open people’s eyes. I want people to understand that we can fight together for what’s right, instead of doing it at the expense of other people,” Cheyne said. Cam added: “Conversations don’t have to be debates. You can listen to someone and respect their opinion, but disagree with it. It was a huge lesson for me. I want to be an activist, to help people fight the systems that oppress us. I want to inspire unity.”
Cam is already diving into his new goal; in addition to being on the youth council at The Door, he also kicked off a collaborative project for women’s history month where individuals were asked to hang sheets of paper describing what feminism meant to them in Center Space. As if that weren’t enough, he said that he’s hoping to start an academic path to become a social worker. Cheyne is hoping to become a dance instructor or an English teacher, but knows that both of those professions require a strong vision and an ability to inspire others. That ability – to guide people on the right path and help them make the right choices for themselves – is one of the greatest lessons now that they’ve left Creating Change, and have arrived at being changemakers.