"Adults so often downplay teenagers and their opinions. Or assume they don’t know since they haven’t experienced enough. They know. They can do the research. They also have a fresh perspective on everything which is so invaluable."
Thank you so much for coming out Abril. I always start off with the same question. As QTPOC we are constantly policed when it comes to our identity. I would like to give you this time to introduce yourself however you’d like.
My name is Abril Marshall. I am a native to Tulsa. I moved to Kansas for a while for school. I went to a private Quaker school called Friends University. I actually started the Gay Straight Alliance there.
Then I worked on a master’s degree which I didn’t finish, but oh wells. Then I came back to Tulsa and have been working as the Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator at Camp Fire Green Country the past 9 months or so.
Wow! Congrats! Still a fairly new job. What does that entail? Those are two very content packed words.
I know. When I was talking to someone I worked with a lot, they told me that was the most bullshit title ever. Such buzzwords. Diversity and Inclusion. What that kind of entails is a lot of youth leadership with teenagers who may be left out. Youth of color and mainly LGBTQ+. That’s my primary audience. I go to their schools and help them create GSAs, and if they already have a GSA, I figure out ways to help them run it better and leadership things.
Often times I enter and they don’t have a plan or agenda. They don’t have future goals for their club. I tell them, if you want this to continue, and to do more, you need to make plans and show others to recruit people.
What were some struggles with starting a GSA at Friends University?
The school was non denominational. That’s what they say but it's a Christian school. What they basically said was, I think you are going to upset people if we allow you to have this club.
And so basically I said no, finding an ally in a teacher, and talking to our dean and others in our board, and explaining why this is important. Being in a mostly Christian space can feel like othering, especially if you're LGBT. We sold it as creating a home inside a home, especially for those who moved far away. Selling it like that kind of worked but not really since they said we could make a social justice club but not a Gay Straight Alliance. We compromised and created the Social Justice Club which we called The Crew, but everybody knew was the GSA.
I’m interested. In this regime, what is a safe space to you?
That’s a tough question. I think for me, a safe space is a place of trust and a place of community. A place where you know where you’ll be immediately welcomed, included, and you can trust that what happens there isn’t going to mess with your life outside of there. For example, if you’re not out, it’s not going to out you out to anybody else. Or if you say something, it won’t leak out to the public. So to me, a safe place is a place of trust and empathy.
What is the relationship between your work, your family, and your identity?
My family is super proud of what I do, but it isn’t easy. When we talk about being LGBTQ+ and communities of color, we need to realize that it’s not the same as being LGBTQ+ in a white family because there’s different ways those families function, interpret the world around them.
I feel like a lot of the times...I’m gonna say Black families since that’s the only experience I have, but I feel like a lot of times Black families are looking at the world as obstacles they have to overcome to get to where they wanna be. They already have obstacles like racism, and racism often times creates situations of poverty for a lot of people due to structural racism. And it creates a lot of instances of not having the same life opportunities as white children. They’re thinking of their children and thinking, my children have to go through this. Then you put LGBTQ+ in there and there is another obstacle my child is going to have to overcome.
One, it is gonna cause stress to them but also stress to the family as a whole. And I feel like a lot of times Black families and families of color, it’s seen as homophobic, but it’s really protection. A lot of times it can be hard for them to understand this is what makes their child happy.
But honestly, I feel like when they see their child happy, they are a lot more accepting and understanding. To tie that back to my family, my family, we don’t talk about my gayness but we know it’s there. I’ll say something and they’ll say that’s so good, but it’s never something they bring up on their own. It’s something I always have to bring up. And what about you?
How do you explain to POC families who don’t have any LGBTQ+ kids or relatives? That direct relationship people have to someone who is LGBTQ+ is so important to humanizing our community.
Are we talking about youth who don’t have a LGBTQ+ community to latch onto?
Yes, and families who have more conservative mindsets because they don’t associate with any out LGBTQ+ people.
I’m gonna start with the youth since I work with them and focus on that. I notice that a lot of the programs we have at our schools are mainly white youth, not many POCs. So I started every Wednesday a Queer Youth of Color Club.
I just started it so I didn’t have too much pool, but I’m hoping as the word gets out, more of the kids will come. I’ll use youth. I don’t like to label them kids.
So that’s such a hard thing that I’m really trying to research and understand better. Think of how much better everyone’s life will be if families can come to terms with the youth. So many homeless youth are POCs because they don’t feel like they can go to their family. Then their families don’t know where the resources are, where they can find out how they can help their child. It just creates a rift of misunderstanding where neither side knows how to hop over. It’s really painful because I work a lot with Youth Services of Tulsa and they work a lot with a lot of homeless youth. A lot of homeless queer youth. I don’t have a great answer to that.
Like mentioned during the Equity forum, if Tulsa Public School creates a bridge for parents and youth to come together and talk to eachother, cause I think, I’m thinking of immigrant families who may have trouble with English, they are sometimes wary of those who come in and say this needs to happen. One thing the organization I work with does really well is the staff speaks multiple languages. They can speak to them one on one and explain what we’re doing. LGBTQ+ training for those families or some sort of community event could help bring them in.
Like Katie Couric’s Gender Revolution for National Geographic made it in very simple terms for those who are not in the know. If you’re not in the know, some of this can be very scary. What is that term? What does that mean? What is this? This is too much. If we can explain things in a very basic way, LGBTQ+ 101, like a lot of people don’t even know what LGBT stands for. If we can bring it back to the basics and explain it in a way that is successful to them, I think you’d be surprised by how much they wanna learn.
I have 2 branching thoughts from here. After going to the Equity forum, I was hyped about your Queer Youth of Color group. I told some of the fellows about your plan and they were equally psyched, but questioned why we weren’t changing the culture of GSA instead.
It’s a good critique.
One, I thought having a separate club was important because I need to learn from them what would make GSA more inclusive. I want their input. They are the ones living and dealing with it. How do we make these spaces more inclusive? What do we need to change so you feel comfortable going through a day of high school and then coming to this club?
I think the way to make our current GSAs more inclusive is to make sure we have POCs coming here, and making sure POCs are heard. This is what I would like to talk about. This is what I would like to do. Make sure it is a main point of focus, not just a side thought for Black History Month. Make sure it is something we continually focus on. It calls for clubs to prioritize that and constantly check themselves, BUT as I said, Youth of Color aren’t coming to these meetings. I’m hoping creating this separate club will encourage them to attend GSA after discussing how we can create this change with a game plan. Two, I want their opinion. A lot of our programming is led by the youth. Tell us what they need. Give them the opportunity to come forward and lead.
Thank you for that.
I have also been thinking about whose responsibility it is to educate others. Often times, POCs are viewed as the source for truth, and that can be exhausting, especially when you're just trying to thrive in this day and age. Thoughts in general on waking people up?
One, I think it is no one’s responsibility. No one HAS to do that ever. Ever. I think you’ll find people like myself who want to do that. Ok, I want to be able to show this person this or that, but sometimes I don’t. People don’t have to, but you can.
For example, if someone came up to you and went, I see you’re a Black person, can you explain what Juneteenth is about? I don’t feel like it right now so I can’t. But if I do feel like it, then maybe I can. People just shouldn’t go up to others and expect them to explain things. That’s wrong. I think if white people wanna learn, I think Aware Tulsa is good for them. I know the people who lead Aware Tulsa and trust they lead in the best way they can. It is my long way of saying if you want to, you can. And you don’t always have to. I feel like in my work, that’s what I do.
You give yourself to the world 8+ hours a day. Kudos to you Abril!
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
Hmmm. Most people don’t ask me any questions. I guess I wish people asked about what the youth are saying about this. They ask what I do but don’t ask about what the youth think. They tell me their thoughts and needs which I try my best to relay, but I can’t speak for them. The youth are the ones in charge. I wish people asked what they want.
May I ask what present concerns the youth have expressed? What is on their mind?
Finals. To be honest with you. A lot of them are going through family things. They are trying to come out and be their own person, but their parents are pushing back. They are coming to the point where they realize their parents aren’t perfect and that they’re human. It’s a sort of a disappointing feeling where they feel alone. They are dealing with a lot of that. Connecting their families with who they are and who they want to be instead of who their family expects them to be. Which is so hard, especially as a teenager. But community wise, I feel like their biggest concern is adultism. They feel like they can never express their opinion without being downplayed because of their age or being talked down to all the time. They wanna be taken seriously, which doesn’t happen a lot.
May I ask what makes you happy?
Days like this. Going on walks. Walking to the coffee shop. I really do love Tulsa and Oklahoma. It is my home and I have this perfect opportunity to build it up into something better. And so, just thinking about Tulsa. This is my happy space. Knowing it will only get better.
May I ask what has been one of the most rewarding moments in Tulsa thus far?
Have I told you about Campout? Well Campout is our youth leadership retreat for LGBT+ youth. And it’s a weekend. We take them out to Camp Waluhili and it’s basically youth led. They create the workshops and discussions.
Islamophobia. Body positivity. An inclusive GSA. Christian Supremacy versus White Supremacy. We had different caucasus for gender and race. A space to communicate with one another and discuss privilege, feminism, especially in the gay caucus, and just whatever you feel like you need to be better. They don’t have a lot of chances to be in a big space away for the weekend around other LGBT people. Just seeing them all there and being happy with one another, and learning about social justice to help their community is beautiful. They meet every weekend for 3 months to provide this for the youth. Just being leaders. I love it.
May I ask what are some resources, books, movies, etc. that have really influenced your life?
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. It changed my life. There’s a book I like called Queering Anarchism. It’s ok. God, there are so many. The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. Du Bois is always relevant. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.
Yes! Did you watch his recent film?
I Am Not Your Negro? Yes! Everything he’s saying can be said today. I wish everyone could see it.
My biggest thing that I’m researching which I find interesting is the argument of how segregation could help Black communities. I don’t agree with them but the side is interesting. I do not support integration.
Haha. I shall put that in bold. Abril does not support segregation.
Haha. Yeah, I just like thinking about alternate universes. Separate is never equal so it would have never worked anyway. Let me think of other great books. Right now I am trying to get through a book called Black Queer Studies. I really liked Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law. I liked it even though they hit the same point 5,000 times. How Immigration Became Illegal by Chomsky. It was hard to get into but a really good book. Ohh, Just Queer Folks. Gender and Sexuality in Rural America. If you haven’t read Gay New York, I highly recommend it.
I love this!! It is so wondrous to see where all of our interests go. This year I made a promise to myself that I would read 12 Vietnamese/Vietnamese American authors. But I always think about how I’m missing out on Queer theory, comics, language learning, etc.
You should definitely check out SAGE. This annual exhibit connects elderly LGBTQ folks with a highschool student. They come together and make a piece. It’ll happen in October or around then.
Sweet! We’ll be here.
Moving to Tulsa, it's definitely been stressful. I’m wondering what the pull was to move back to Tulsa. I don’t meet many native Tulsans, and when you said that, I went, woah...
Haha. Yeah. Well Tulsa is this very, not liberal, but it’s a very blue spot in a red state. It’s a safe space, an atmosphere where if you go to the other parts of OK, it’s a shocker. I think also being in a place like Kansas and coming back here, it is a breathe of fresh air. I know it sounds kind of sad but it is. I also know that Tulsa has a lot to offer. In my social group, I know hardly any straight people I realized. So Tulsa allows for that. I don’t have to interact with straight people that often.
And so I think that’s why a lot of LGBTQ+ people don’t mind staying here. There is a community if you know where it is. Generally, if I know someone and there is a LGBTQ+ person, they know them too. It’s nice. And also, this is where I grew up and where all my family is. I also have a 9 year old sister and it was sad not being able to watch her grow up while I was in school. Being there sometimes after school is really important.
Yes! You should definitely meet up with some of the other fellows. They are phenomenal. A handful of QTPOC fellows.
That’s beautiful! One of my biggest struggles is that most of my friends here are white while they were mainly Black in Kansas. It’s weird. It’s so hard to find Queer people of color in Tulsa. Most of the spaces are very, very white. That is another reason why I wanted to create my club, so my high schoolers won’t have the same struggle since they’ll have this community. Maybe they’ll go off to college, maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll stay or leave. But at least they’ll have this foundation to learn. That’s what I’m struggling with at the moment. Finding people to create these spaces.
Yes! I recently stopped by Club Majestic where I was approach by someone who was in awe of my Asianess. “OMG YOU”RE ASIAN!” At first I was disturbed and turned off, but then I realized she simply wanted community. She mentioned not having any Asian friends. We exchanged business cards.
I am figuring out that you can have a seat at the table in Tulsa. It is really trying and needs more people to stay, especially POCs.
What advice do you have for your younger self and the future generations of QTPOC?
Just trust yourself. What you’re feeling isn’t a trick or a lie, or something you need to overcome. Trust yourself. Trust your heart. Trust what you want and go for it. Don’t let anyone tell you to dim yourself to fit in. Be uniquely and completely yourself.
Thank you for that!
How was post-OKC by the way?
*(CNN)Every year Oklahomans for Equality takes a group of LGBT students to the state Capitol in Oklahoma City to learn about advocacy and government. But this year's field trip came with a painful and unexpected lesson. As the students arrived Monday they learned that a Capitol staffer had sent an email that day throughout the state offices warning, "there are cross-dressers in the building." http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/12/us/lgbt-students-oklahoma-capitol-trnd/index.html
It was pretty wild since it caught a lot of attention. I feel like the youth came out of it in a lot of different ways. Some were discouraged and felt like they couldn’t do anything since that’s the way they are. Some came out of it feeling like there’s a lot of work for them to do. Some just wanted to distance themselves as self-care since it was so taxing.
They didn't wanna do any programs but lots of conversation. There was one youth I had who is more quiet and hasn’t shown much interest. After the event, we had a one on one conversation where he wanted to know what his GSA club could do to be more proactive. It was great!
I think it really lit a fire in some of them.
What did you tell the student?
I don’t know if this will be applicable to you, but I told him to create an agenda so people know what to expect when they come to the club. So you have set rules. Let people know that it’s a meeting to get things accomplished, not just a social setting.
Two, get familiar with Oklahoma legislators and bigger laws happening. Even though we defeated most of the anti-LGBT laws, there are tons of Immigration laws that are horrendous. They need to get rid of. Women choice laws as well. I told them to do research on that and to also kind of just learn how to facilitate. How to explain these things to other people. Create programming. Figure out what others are doing and emulate them.
It’s kind of crazy how even adult organizations, clubs, and programs could use your advice. We need to listen to the youth more.
Yes! The youth know where it’s at.
I’m trying to go by this motto: Don’t just learn about people. Learn From People.
Adults so often downplay teenagers and their opinions. Or assume they don’t know since they haven’t experienced enough. They know. They can do the research. They also have a fresh perspective on everything which is so invaluable.