Friday, January 17, 2020

An interview with InQluded founder and editor-in-chief medina

I'm excited about InQluded, and about helping shine the spotlight on this platform and empowerment project for Queer and Trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Youth. Here's the interview, and some images from the InQluded literary magazine...

Lee: Hi medina, so I’ve figured out that a lot of what I write are stories that would have changed my life had I read them when I was a teen. Is that what InQluded magazine is for you? What impact would it have had on your younger self if they could have read an issue?

medina: Hi, Lee! Oh, that absolutely makes sense. Representation is powerful.

I think that we as queer/LGBTQIA+ people are oftentimes playing catch up and yearning to live the lives we wish we could have lived fully before there was this kind of representation.

Hmm..I don’t know if inQluded is that for me. To be honest, I’ve never thought about that. My thought process for creating inQluded was: what do QTBIPOC kids deserve right now, and how can I help give that to them? I see what is happening right now in our political climate, I pay attention to what people younger than me are advocating for, passionate, about, etc. And so, I continue to create programming for inQluded to better serve the population we engage with daily. I’m always very much focused in the now and thinking intentionally about how what I do now can make a positive impact tomorrow. Do good as you go, ya know?

If inQluded existed back when I was growing up -- then -- I’d like to think the whole world would be altered, too. So, what would be my deepest hope would be that what I felt as a queer Latinx person growing up in Maine would have a positive ripple effect across the world. People my age would feel like they mattered. Like they belonged. Like they didn’t need to be ashamed for being queer...

...for being themselves.

They wouldn’t have felt scared all the time. To feel that, if they accidentally revealed that part of themselves that they would be friendless, unworthy of love or worse.

Parents, teachers, and adults in your life that you confide in can tell you how life is better with you in it, they can tell you how beautiful you are, but at a young age our need to be accepted by our own peers usually outweighs what adults are saying (even if it’s true). And really, I think the root of wanting to be accepted by peers is about trying to find community. So, to have a magazine for/by young people as a young teen, would have been life altering. I would have felt community, acceptance, connectedness and less fear.

If I had inQluded back then, I would probably be writing different stories today. I often describe writing for me as happy/sad; as devastatingly beautiful. I would love to not have to pull from this deep part of me that feels pain, sadness, rejection and alienation all the time. It’s emotionally tiring. I’d love to write a very fluffy story about fluffy fluffy fluffiness. I don’t feel I have that luxury, not yet, and probably never.

If I had inQluded back then, inQluded may not exist today. Because we already would have been inQluded.

Lee: Tell us about starting inQluded.

medina: This is what I know: Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24. LGBTQIA+ youth seriously contemplate suicide almost THREE TIMES the amount of heterosexual youth. This doesn’t take into account queer youth of color.

When we know the facts - how can we go on without doing something? How can we ever be the same?

I believe that our experiences lead us to things. Our experiences prepare us for things.

What do you think, Lee?

Lee: Hell, Yeah!

medina: Yeah, so, I think I’ve spent my whole life preparing to start inQluded.

I’ve always been someone who has found great joy from learning, listening, understanding and advocating for others. I am devoted to empowering and fostering a safe environment amongst youth through the arts. The arts are an integral part of the global conversation and has the powerful ability to engage all levels of society to promote change! I believe it is crucial to give youth at the intersection of vulnerable identities a platform on which to tell their own authentic stories.

Before I started my MFA program I was working as a youth advocate at a homeless drop in-center and though it was not part of my job description to create any programming, I couldn’t get it out of my head that our clients needed to be doing something creative. I’d get dozens of books donated, art supplies donated and watch how the atmosphere shifted. Art. Heartwork.

I immediately pitched to my supervisor that I wanted to facilitate a weekly writing program. After 9 weeks, it was finally approved. We went on to host an open mic and get the ball rolling to create a zine. I actually left before I could see if they created a zine because I began to slowly realize that I needed to go back to school and get my MFA in creative writing. My clients I worked with inspired me to do so. It was veryyyyyy Freedom Writers. Wish you could have seen it!

So, long story long, I applied to my MFA program and to The New School’s new Impact Entreprenuership Fellowship and pitched my venture: inQluded.

Lee: So cool! You’ve done four digital issues so far? Where can people go to get them?

medina: Yes! We just released our fourth digital issue. We dropped our first digital issue last June. All of our issues are designed by Isaiah Frisbie. Issue one and four are illustrated by Daylen. Issue Two’s cover was illustrated by Matthew Penado and Issue Three was illustrated by Marina Labarthe del Solar.

Issue One: The theme for issue one (pride issue) was “chosen family” but we named the issue: Welcome Home. In the face of indifference, discrimination, hatred or rejection, many of us must recreate and rebuild a community, a family. A family that is loving and accepting of exactly who we are. One that is loving and accepting of who we are. According to a 2018 report by the Human Rights Campaign, only 24 percent of LGBTQ youth feel they can “definitely be themselves at home.” Our self-created families and communities become what we call home.

Issue Two: Here to Stay. Here to stay was our letter to the world, a declaration that strongly resists, reclaims and transcends revolution. We will not be forgotten. We will not be erased. We are here to stay.

Issue Three: Break Borders and Binaries. This issue highlights the narratives of QTIBIPOC migrants, refugees, and folks from the diaspora. In centering borders with this issue, we strive to recognize how critical it is to question the ways in which borders are used to police the lives of marginalized folks while simultaneously recognizing how these same borders also shape cultures and identities. You’ll discover work that combats, questions, engages, or transcends these borders and binaries.

Issue Four: Love Lives Here. As QTBIPOC young people, it’s imperative that we have a space where we can express ourselves freely. It is imperative that we have an opportunity to create art that is joyful and loving. The way we love may be different from the way someone else loves, but that doesn’t mean that our love is wrong. Love can never be wrong. I know that I am tired of the singular narratives and stereotypes that persist outside of our community: that our stories are only ones of sadness and trauma. We are more than that. We deserve a love story. This is our love story

All of our issues live on

Lee: Is your vision to have InQluded be more than the magazine?

medina: Part of our mission is bringing access to QTBIPOC communities and helping navigate the publishing world. Many of us experience social exclusion because of who we are. So, we built a space where we are inQluded. We will continue to amplify the voices of youth through inclusiveness, compassion, understanding and artistic expression. I believe inQluding emerging and diverse voices will ultimately empower our communities.

Media for young people is a critical factor in the development of young people; it helps create our perception of people and validates the experiences of young people. Everyone deserves to see themselves in the media. Without these stories, children will end up internalizing society’s prejudices and biases and not feel validated or seen.

Our community that makes inQluded is the vision I will follow. I’ll borrow inQluded’s vision and listen and continue to implement events or programming that honors inQluded.

Lee: You’re gearing up for a mentor program - tell us about that.

medina: SO EXCITING. I’d be happy to! The mentorship is a perfect example of how we take ideas from our community seriously and do our best to implement them into sustainable programming.

We'll match established QTBIPOC authors & illustrators with unpublished and/or unagented QTBIPOC writers & illustrators.

A break down of the inQluded QTBIPOC Writing and Illustrators Mentorship Program:

This program is for queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, youth of color
Mentors must be over the age of 18 (there is no age limit)
Must identify as queer or trans and BIPOC
The program will launch in February 2020 and run for five months, with one-hour meetings per month (you do not have to meet in person)

Lee: If someone reading this is interested in being a mentor, what do they need to know/do?

medina: Know that 1. I’m so thrilled you’re interested. Thank you for considering being a mentor.

This mentorship is less traditional, in that, we can be flexible with timing. We’d rather have a beautiful pair and have to wait for a mentor to be available then to give a mentee someone who may not be the best match. So, please know that we can work with you -- you don’t need to start mentoring tomorrow.

The commitment is for five months and one hour a month. This is the form:

Mentor apps are due January 27th, 2020.

Lee: You’re doing your own writing while at the same time prioritizing raising the voices of others. Can you speak to that balance?

medina: Working on inQluded fuels me with inspiration and motivation. As for my own writing, I’d like to think my job as a writer is to always raise the voices of others. I think some of the best writing is when you forget about the writer or author and are affected by that piece of work so much that it embodies you and changes you. I’m a vessel. I’m the messenger.

Lee: What haven’t I asked that you want to share with our readers?

medina: If you’re in NYC, please follow us @inqluded everywhere and keep track of our events! We are doing an open-mic series at Bluestockings in March and June. We have a creative writing workshop at Word Up Books in February and so many more in-person events!

Lee: Should we tell everyone about the cool thing we’ve cooked up?

medina: I thought you’d never ask?

Lee: inQluded will be running a piece from one of their issues as a Valentine’s Day gift to readers here at I’m Here. I’m Queer. What The Hell Do I Read?! I’m so excited about that!

medina: Yay!

Lee: Thanks so much, medina! You’ve given me another reason to look forward to Valentine’s Day.

medina: Thank you so much for chatting with me. :)

Check out the InQluded website and first four issues here.

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,


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