By Greg Hernandez
When Guadalupe Sanchez signed up for the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s LifeWorks Mentoring Program, she wanted to be matched with a cisgender, butch lesbian who had achieved professional success.
She found that in Rosser Goodman (pictured with Sanchez, above), an accomplished television and film director and producer who became her mentor two years ago.
“To be able to see someone older who presents like me and is successful has been eye-opening and a blessing,” says Sanchez. “It really has opened my horizons and helped me to see a different narrative than what I could have imagined before. I’ve seen that it actually does get better.”
LifeWorks is one of the only LGBTQ-focused mentoring programs in the nation with a network of more than 100 mentors to support their young mentees in goal setting through five achievement areas: home, health, education, career, and personal development.
During the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanchez and Goodman kept in touch by texting and the FaceTime app. Pre-pandemic, they met at coffee houses and attended art installations and plenty of LGBT film screenings.
“She sees me as another adult versus as a kid,” shares Sanchez, who recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology from Cal State University, Dominguez Hills. “We talk about real-life situations. You think you know everything, but sometimes you need another person to come in and give you a bigger perspective.”
Diverse Pool of Mentors
LifeWorks mentors must make a 12-month commitment to the program and are encouraged to be there for their mentee, not as a parent or a teacher, but as someone who is there to guide them in being their absolute best selves.
“It’s a goal-oriented program, and we focus on goals,” explains Mentoring Coordinator Emmy Martinez. “A lot of it is just knowing that you have someone on your side because a lot of the youth are displaced and don’t have their family to support them.”
A few years ago, youth would often be matched with whichever mentors were available because the mentor pool had dwindled down so low. Now a youth can make specific requests, such as gender identity and careers paths, or choose someone themselves.
“I wanted youth to have a reflection of themselves in our mentor pool,” Martinez says. “I networked like crazy going to as many events as I could, got the word out through the Center’s Trans* Lounge program, and that’s how we’ve been getting more trans and gender expansive mentors.”
Among the matches resulting from Martinez’s outreach efforts was high school teacher KR Rose and a 15-year-old youth with whom they had something profoundly in common: both were on a gender journey of transitioning from female to nonbinary. The teen felt more comfortable asking for information regarding their identity and gender-related surgeries from someone living the experience as a trans nonbinary individual.
“They got top surgery a year ago, and I had had mine a few years earlier. So, that was a big connection for us,” Rose shares. “I could share my experience and let them know what to expect.”
Rose even traveled to San Francisco to be with the teen and the teen’s mother for pre- and post-surgery.
“I didn’t realize I’d have the option of identifying as nonbinary until I was 30,” Rose says. “To see someone who is 13 or 14 on that journey and figuring themselves out has been really inspiring. They are free to be themselves and be authentic.”
LifeWorks Heads South
Thanks to a five-year grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Center began this month to expand LifeWorks Mentoring to its Center South location near Leimert Park.
Center South focuses on serving the needs of young gay and bi men of color ages 12 to 29 and trans women of color, and its services include HIV and STI testings, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) services; linkage and retention to HIV care; housing and employment navigation; mental health services; and legal services.
Mentors for Center South participants will receive additional training in the areas of HIV and substance abuse prevention.
“We are reaching out to possible mentors and mentees from that area,” explains Mentoring Navigator Jeffrey Tenin. “It’s my job to build up a robust network there and a program that will also include workshops and, eventually, working with GSA clubs.”
Due the pandemic, the Center South program has so far been limited to community events via Zoom. Some of the workshops include American Sign Language, in which youth learn LGBT-friendly signs, and how to build a vision board.
Connecting During Pandemic
The pandemic may have changed the way mentors and mentees stay in touch, but they have remained committed to each other
“There have been a good number of folks who have made this work,” Martinez says. “Zoom has been a wonder for a lot of our youth because checking in online can be more consistent. At a time when we are all on Zoom, I think it’s really easy to feel alone right now. But, knowing you have a mentor whom you will connect with for an hour—someone who has your back and asks you questions about your life—is worth every minute.”
For more information about the Mentoring Program, visit lifeworksla.org or contact [email protected] or 323-860-7373.