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Angel Brown

Angel Brown


Today's young gay leaders represent the largest cultural shift in a generation. Here are some high achievers who aren't hung up on their sexuality and are determined to make a difference

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 that."

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