For Angel Brown,
the harassment was more insidious: The pupils at her
300-student Washington, D.C., high school went out of their
way to avoid openly confronting her, but that
didn't mean they were ignoring her or the fact
she was a lesbian.
"There was a lot of quiet
intimidation," she says. "General lunchroom
snickering and letters passed back and forth [in
class]." Angel's family members were,
sadly, quite similar in their behavior; her extended family
would titter among themselves about her sexuality, but when
Angel would walk into the room, they would all
immediately clam up--too skittish, it seems, to
engage the issue directly.
"I've always been a vocal person,
very mouthy," she says. "My family knew
who they were dealing with. They had no other choice but to
accept me. I would bring girlfriends to family events,
barbecues, and reunions. Because they couldn't
deal, I helped them by putting it in their face."
She giggles infectiously.
Besides, Angel had long since found her calling:
work where she simply fit, and fit in.
Back in junior high a guidance counselor had
suggested Angel was well-suited for the Sasha Bruce
Youthwork, a private nonprofit agency for at-risk
youth and family services that, among other functions, sends
peer HIV/AIDS educators to area high schools.
"That's where I blossomed. It was
my thing, to help people and to speak up for people
who can't speak up for themselves," she says.
Her service with Sasha Bruce Youthwork led her to
SMYAL, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League,
and life only got better. "It was empowering,"
she says. "They taught us how to be family, how
to take care of ourselves and each other."
Now 24, Angel is pulling double duty by studying
social work at the University of the District of
Columbia and starting a two-year fellowship with the
Black AIDS Institute's African American HIV
University. It is all the more remarkable considering
that she dropped out of high school at 18, completely
sick of the constant discomfort she felt everywhere.
She subsequently resigned from her duties at Sasha Bruce.
It was a staffer at SMYAL who convinced Angel to
start night school and get her high school diploma,
and it was at SMYAL that Angel also met Katrina. A
42-year-old lesbian of color, she took Angel under her wing.
Katrina and her partner, Darlene, in effect,
became Angel's new, gay parents.
"It is important to have the guidance in
my life of other gays and lesbians in the
fight," Angel says with deep pride. "You have
to have someone to teach you the history, to give you
the stories. We don't have enough of