Gage Gillard | He/Him/His
Youth Advisory Board Member | Ypsilanti, MI
Michigan Forward in Enhancing Research and Community Equity (MFierce), is a partnership of community organizations, youth advocates, and public health researchers working together to reduce STIs among young sexual and gender minority youth in Southeast Michigan. MFierce is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Community Approaches to Reducing STIs Program and is a project of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
MFierce is a coalition that utilizes a shared decision-making process among all partners to address STIs in our region. MFierce is comprised of three entities; a SexLab team, a group of Youth Advisory Board (YAB) members who are youth advocates, ages 20-30, and a Steering Committee of organization and agency representatives. We are currently implementing the Health Access Initiative, a LGBTQ+ cultural responsiveness training and technical assistance program for local clinics and health centers. Our second initiative is developing the Advocacy Collective, a LGBTQ+ youth health advocate organization.
In the spirit of promoting LGBTQ+ affirming resources and services, check out this great event this month: The Ellen Bommarito LGBTQ Center at the University of Michigan-Flint is hosting their annual "Coming Out Monologues". Click here for more details.
How did you get involved with MFierce?
I saw a Facebook ad, that stated youth were needed for a position on a project dealing with sexual health. I contacted the person with the information on the flier and no more than two weeks later, I had an interview. What really stuck out to me though, was that those who did the interview were so very accommodating and came to where I was at geographically. Which was not in Ann Arbor.
The MFierce Coalition uses a community-engaged approach where decision-making is shared among the three entities. That sounds complex. What are the most important take aways from using participatory processes?
Having opportunities to allow each and every person, to voice their opinions is very important. Also, community-engaged work does not work without the voices of those communities. I’m also beginning to realize how many programs and interventions, do exactly that – don’t seek the opinions of the communities they’re working to change.
When I talk to people about MFierce, I tell them...
That the focus is to make structural level changes in the southeast region of Michigan and that LGBTQ+ youth have been instrumental in that process since the beginning.
What is the most exciting thing that you’ve experienced while being a part of MFierce?
Probably just the relationship building that has happened between all YAB members. We’ve really got to know each other. With the addition of all of the amazing professional development opportunities we’ve had.
“Community” is a word people use a lot but don’t always define. What does it mean to you?
Community means to me a collective group of people who share similar identities, perspectives, experiences, etc. I don’t really particularly identify with things that are very mainstream LGBTQ+. This is because I believe that narrative often leaves out the voices and experiences of gender and minority youth.
What else is going on in your life that you would like to share?
I just recently celebrated my 21st birthday, just a couple of days ago. My partner and I spent it together and it was very nice.
If you could look into the future, what would you tell your future self?
You are valued, loved, and supported – always.
And the most important question of our time, if you were a crayon, what color would you be?