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Young advocates take helm of Critical Voice coalition for San Diego LGBT youth

SAN DIEGO -- Community advocates Indie Landrum and Holley Hatfield recently took the reins of Critical Voice – A Queer Youth Coalition.

Landrum and Hatfield said they are determined to balance their college course work with the opportunity to sustain and expand the reach of Critical Voice’s inspiring mission: Standing up to substance abuse, specifically among LGBT youth, and empowering a new generation of leaders in the County of San Diego’s Central Region.

The San Diego natives are taking the helm of Critical Voice at a pivotal time in the coalition’s existence. A short time after setting down roots in the offices of Golden Hill-based San Diego Youth Services, a little more than a year ago, the coalition’s members – high school and junior college students between the ages of 16 and 24 – set their sights on understanding the severity of drug use among LGBT teens.

After conducting an initial survey of 200 LBGT and straight youth, Critical Voice members said they realized the compelling need for an advocacy coalition that champions healthy lifestyle choices for LGBT teens. Among the survey’s findings: Compared to their straight peers who completed the survey in the same community locales, drug use among gay youth was higher across almost all drug types, while cigarette and alcohol use were dramatically higher.

When the coalition’s founding community organizer, Lauren Martin, returned to the Bay Area last March to pursue her graduate studies, Landrum and Hatfield jumped at the chance to sustain her leadership legacy.

“Lauren has been my mentor and friend for many years,” Hatfield said. “Her determination to overcome obstacles, while always remaining positive, made a strong impression on me.”

Landrum agreed.

“Lauren really prepared us for this opportunity. She understood our interest in taking on more responsibilities with the coalition, as well as our hope for a seamless transition. We are grateful to her for this chance to play a leadership role in an important movement that is much bigger than ourselves,” Landrum said.

At a time in their lives when most teenagers are focused on college course work and having fun, 18-year-old Landrum and 22-year-old Hatfield said they find inspiration, purpose and enjoyment in their new roles as coalition leaders. They thrive off the creative energy generated by the stark contrast between their respective skills sets and points-of-view.

“Indie is definitely the big-picture, creative force in our partnership,” Hatfield said. “I enjoy bringing structure to ideas and am very detailed-oriented. So you could say we are a perfect match!”

Landrum and Hatfield have not skipped a beat since assuming their new positions as Community Organizers of the Critical Voice coalition. Among the goals that will define the coalition’s mission through the end of 2012 are:

• Organizing events and outreach activities during San Diego PRIDE weekend (July 21-22) with the goal of engaging the community in Critical Voice’s mission to build a new generation of LGBT leaders who are standing up to substance abuse, while defining their identity, values and aspirations on their own terms.

• Planning a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) mixer, in the fall of this year, to which GSAs from across San Diego County will be invited. The forum will offer guests the chance to participate in hands-on role modeling activities, with the goal of empowering them to play an active role in improving the quality of life of LGBT teens.

• Recruiting a local middle school as a partner in the coalition’s Ally Gator campaign. Critical Voice members developed Ally Gator as a local response to the rise in bullying on school campuses nationwide. The peer-to-peer program encourages children, regardless of their sexual orientation, to champion the right of each child to celebrate his/her individuality, while standing up for kids who, by marching to the beat of their own drummer, make themselves vulnerable to bullying by their peers.

“Holly and I look forward to what the future holds for Critical Voice,” Landrum said. “We are excited to get to know our community better, while making connections at the grassroots level that are so important to bringing about the positive change we are fighting for.”

For more information about Critical Voice, please visit HERE.