Eric Hayes, Communications & Development Coordinator
I have never been so excited to write a blog post as I am to write this one.
I met Ose Arheghan in January 10, 2017. I was facilitating a Center program called Prevention Warriors, which is an LGBTQ-inclusive, comprehensive sex education program at Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library. On the first day of Prevention Warriors, 2 youth from the group are selected to become peer leaders for the duration of the program. In exchange for a small stipend, those youths help me with set up and clean up, bring back resources for the rest of the group, and help lead activities during the lessons. Ose Arheghan was one of the most impressive teens I met during the two years I spent working with the Center’s youth program. I’m incredibly proud to report that less than one year later she’s been honored nationally as GLSEN’s Student Advocate of the Year and received this award alongside household names like DC Entertainment, Kerry Washington, and Zendaya.
“My advocacy stems from my experience. As a queer person of color, making sure my identities are affirmed and protected in schools and through policy is personal.”
Ose began her work as an advocate last year as a junior in high school leading Shaker Heights’ Principal Student Leadership Team Cultural Proficiency Subcommittee. She took GLSEN’s model anti-discrimination policy for schools to the principal, superintendent, and school board and was able to get explicit protections for students based on sexual orientation and gender identity adopted at a district level. She also ran a year-long series on diversity in school newspaper that highlighted LGBTQ voices.
She has gone to the Ohio Statehouse twice to lobby the state legislature around funding after-school activities and LGBTQ protections for students and recently she travelled to Washington DC with Advocates for Youth to lobby Congress to defund abstinence-only sexual health programs.
The GLSEN Student Advocate of the Year upholds the ideals of respect, safety, and inclusion for all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Ose felt so much pride and joy in her successes, that she nominated herself so that she could share her work and inspire other youth to become advocates as well: “My favorite part was giving my speech. I was able to craft a 4-minute speech, explaining why I thought youth advocacy was important and why queer youth, especially queer youth of color, deserve space to thrive. I was in a room of 600 celebrities, executives and stakeholders in the LGBT community — many of whom came up to me after and told me that my words had an impact on them. It’s still hard to comprehend that me, a queer kid from Ohio, had the opportunity to make an impact on so many people.”
Ose plans to go to college next year to study International Relations, Queer Theory, and Journalism. “I want to advocate for international LGBTQ rights. I want to be able to make an impact on the lives of queer people from both a structural, policy level and a more personal one. I want to continue using my voice to share my story and uplift marginalized voices in the community, centering queer people of color in my work.”
Her advice for other teens interested in advocacy?
“Do not let anyone stop you. When it comes to advocacy, especially LGBTQ advocacy, not everyone is going to agree with what you’re doing. It can be difficult to find spaces where people value youth input, but fighting for those spaces is imperative.”
For more information about Ose’s award, check out GLSEN’s website.
Congratulations, Ose! We’re all so proud of you!