May 23, 2017

Compiled by Courtney Eiland, Website & Social Media Coordinator

This edition of #TellYourStoryTuesday features a strong supporter of Safe Space, Inc., Cedric Pulliam. Pulliam is a PhD candidate in Psychology focusing on Gender and Diversity Studies at Northcentral University. He has worked in human rights, LGBTI issues, vulnerable populations, domestic/global HIV/AIDS, and public/global health for the past seven years in the federal government. He continues to serve his community as an advocate for health for all Americans and eliminating stigma against HIV/AIDS. He serves as a mentor and career counselor to youth, college graduates, and veterans. He also does work in the local community serving as commissioner of the Alexandria Commission on HIV/AIDS and as chair of the Regional HIV/AIDS Policy and Planning Summit (RHAPPS).

Pulliam believes that an organization like Safe Space will save lives of LGBT+ youth in Northern Virginia which is why he is such an advocate. “Safe Space is a game changer when it comes to a resource that I wish that I had during my youth,” he said. “To be able to have a literal safe space that is working to fight stigma, ease the Coming Out process, and ensure a open and welcoming environment was something I had wished for during the young age of 15 when I came out to my parents. I am an advocate for the organization because I know the reality and data behind bullying, discrimination, and stigma towards LGBT+ youth.”

The goal of Safe Space is to provide access to a safe environment where one can be their true self and express themselves how they would like to without the fear of discrimination or stigma based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. “This is vital to the youth because as studies have shown, bullying, discrimination, stigma, and suicide is rapid within our schools (at all levels) and counseling and social services in our schools are not deeming to be the answer or do not have the capacity to cater to these issues as they are not deemed priority,” Pulliam explained. “Thus, Safe Space will be able to be that gateway to mentor LGBT+ youth in self-love, self-care, and courage-building that they need. It will also be a haven for learning about educational aspects of life such as sexual education, dating, and other important topics that affects the youth.”  

Safe Space targets the 14-18 year old demographic as this is the age group where youth are more likely to experience the very issues that Safe Space aims to tackle. “During these years in my life, I came out, was lost, having sex, and did not have a resource or person to go to for guidance. Safe Space has chosen the right age group also because in health and medical terms, this is the range where sexually transmitted infections and HIV is growing higher in burden within the United States in particular – even starting as early as 13 years old,” he said.

Pulliam speaks openly about some of his personal experiences and how Safe Space can now be the voice that he didn’t have when he was growing up. “There are so many challenges within the LGBT+ community that I faced personally such as my weight, race, my accent, the way I dressed, and so many others.The fact of the matter is, it is not as simple as, now that you are within the LGBT+ community bullying, discrimination, and stigma are eliminated from the picture, because it still exists,” he stated. “The barriers that exist within the LGBT+ community shock many, but it can also be as detrimental to a person’s psychosocial and mental state than those from outside the spectrum. I think Safe Space could be the voice of these issues and barriers by holding forums and letting LGBT+ youth voice the issues that they are facing.”

In a digital age where cyber bullying is a major concern within the LGBT+ community, Pulliam can even admit that today’s youth are going through much more alarming experiences. “One thing I do know for a fact is that times have changed from when I was 14-18 years old and so the things current day youth are facing can be astronomically on a new level than what older adults are familiar with facing, so we need to let them voice these issues so we can be aware. Otherwise, how else will we know?,” he said. “It is important that we embrace this age group and let them voice their concerns, be their mentors, and watch them grow. However, we must protect them because with stigma and discrimination on top of bullying, the fate can be devastating to say the least.”

With this month being Mental Health Awareness Month, it is essential to have these open discussions and allow a platform where LGBT+ youth can express their concerns. For Pulliam, he dealt with anxiety and depression when he came out at the age of 15 and wished an organization like Safe Space existed during that time. “I came out without a mentor or initial support from my immediate family, but a close-knit and supportive group of gay friends. I dealt with many episodes of anxiety and depression throughout high school – stints of running away for long periods of time and other experimental episodic voids to deal with the anxiety and depression,” he said. “When venturing off to college it didn’t get easier until junior year when I embraced my truth and lived within my truth no matter what – from that point forward you could not tell me anything. I must add here though, through it all I was a firm believer of therapy and counseling and would seek advice from a therapist and counselor – highly encourage those resources.”

Pulliam hopes to make a difference in the lives of LGBT+ youth alongside Safe Space by serving as a speaker, mentor, or a shoulder to lean on. “This initiative and organization is way overdue and I am happy it exists within my local community and I am here to serve in whatever capacity is deemed necessary to ensure the success, happiness, livelihood, and growth of our LGBT+ youth in the Northern Virginia community.”

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