Earlier this spring, I had the absolute joy of sitting down with Jabari Lyles, the most recent addition to the GLCCB Board of Directors. We met up at Steam Punk Alley in Mt. Vernon where we ate and laughed, and I got to learn more about the Co-Chair and Manager of Education of Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network Student (GLSEN) Baltimore.
Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from originally?
I grew up in Baltimore County. My family moved around a lot when I was younger because my dad was in the Army. We finally ended up in Pikesville when I was about 7, and my parents still live there. I’ve always been a Maryland native and went to Towson High School.
I was the biggest nerd—not that my grades were that good, but my extracurricular activities were phenomenal. I was the student government president, a drum major in marching band, theater, Maryland Youth in Government, and GLSEN. I was that kid that was involved in everything. People saw me as a total suck up.
What about after high school?
I went away to Duquesne in Pittsburgh for a year. It was a turbulent time. I was just young and didn’t know how to do the whole college thing especially since I was a first generation college student. I never even saw the campus before I started there. I applied, got in, and showed up. I pretty much just went and chilled for a while. I really didn’t go to many classes. I was not there to do what I should have done. It’s important for me to admit that. Not everyone is ready for college at 18, it’s too young.
I also think that there were a lot of privileges I wasn’t afforded when growing up that didn’t prepare me for college. I was lower middle class, a first generation college student and gay in a Catholic school. I just had to wing it. But in the words of Christina Aguilera, it made me stronger.
So what was next for you after your stint at Duquesne?
I took a year off and then went back to school at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) because I knew it was right for me. It was a much better fit personally. Community college is a good time to improve grades and learn how to be a college student. It’s a great resource and opportunity to really figure out how to be a good student and approach your education on your own terms. I was also working full time, so I needed that flexibility.
Today I’m a college senior at UMBC with an interest in furthering my studies at UMUC. I’m super excited about finally graduating. I’m majoring in Gender and Women’s Studies. At UMUC I’d major in Social Science.
When did you come out?
I knew I had an attraction to other men when I was in kindergarten. There was this boy who would hump the person in front of him in line, so I would purposely put myself in front of him in line. [Laughs]
No, but really, the first person I told was my best friend when I was 12. I had dropped some hints to some classmates. I didn’t get much of a negative response. It’s another reason I do the GLSEN work that I do. I felt appreciated and affirmed as a young gay person. I came out to the world—my parents, my friends, my family—at 16. My dad told me that I make him proud and that he loves me. At that early age, I realized that it was a privilege. When I started with GLSEN I realized that every young LGBT person deserved that positive experience I had.
What do you do now at GLSEN?
I’m the Co-Chair and Education Manager, so that means I coordinate all of the education programs for GLSEN Baltimore. I provide development for educators as well as student presentations; and GSA support and creation. I do a bit of everything. My leadership there happened organically since I started as a volunteer and grew with the organization.
What got you interested in becoming a GLCCB board member?
I think that being a part of LGBT advocacy work in Baltimore and having relationships with a lot of different people in organizations made it natural. I also noticed the lack of presence of the GLCCB with many of these groups and events. I felt there was a need for the LGBT community center in the area to be more actively involved. This was right around the time I saw the call for board applications and I realized that maybe there weren’t enough people in the organization in order to be involved with other groups like GLSEN. I knew I could be useful because this is my community and I could bring the GLCCB with me to the table in these areas. I had also heard that the GLCCB had previously struggled in the past with acknowledging voices of people of color, transgender individuals and youth. As a strong ally of all three I wanted to challenge those notions and challenge the center to be the organization I know it can be.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise most people.
I actually really enjoy country music. I’ve seen the Avett Brothers and I have Brad Paisley on rotation in my music collection. I love country and folky acoustic music. I have 93.1 FM on all the time. I can get down with some country tunes.
Gay Life June 2015