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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Speaker talks LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. organization

President+of+LGBTQ+S.A.V.E.S.+Sharon+Herrera%2C+discusses+the+impact+of+the+organization+to+a+TR+Campus+audience+as+part+of+LGBTQ+History+Month+Oct.+17.
President of LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. Sharon Herrera, discusses the impact of the organization to a TR Campus audience as part of LGBTQ History Month Oct. 17. Photo by William McCarthy/The Collegian

By Richard Marmolejo/campus editor

Even though her job and her life was threatened, a guest speaker told TR students during an Oct. 17 discussion on LGBTQ issues that the march continues because the struggle continues.

Sharon Herrera, executive director and founder of LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S., works for the Fort Worth Independent School District and is an Air Force veteran. Herrera shared some of her experiences growing up in the LGBTQ community and the struggles that came with it.

“‘I know, mija, you don’t like boys.’ Those are the seven words that saved my life that were told to me by my aunt when she walked in on me moments before taking away my life,” Herrera said. “I didn’t want another child to go through what I went through and suffer like I did.”

Herrera explained how the LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. organization began in 2010 during a rapid growth of national LGBTQ suicides.

“There were like 12 or 13 [suicides] back to back that woke me up, and I realized I had to do something,” Herrera said. “I had the name, I had the idea, but I needed to gather other like-minded folks that would help me. We started the program with a winter prom in 2011, where we had 27 students attend. Last year, it evolved into a nonprofit organization.

Herrera said the group provides scholarships, social events, youth group meetings and everything and anything that can benefit the LGBTQ youth and their families.

Herrera introduced one of the first LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. scholarship recipients, TR student Papi Salgado, who shared his experiences with the organization.

“I found out about LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. exactly three days after my first suicide attempt,” Salgado said. “A former middle school teacher invited me to what would be the first LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. meeting. Sharon came in with her wife and shared her story. Automatically, we clicked. Our stories were very similar, and she was just genuinely caring, which at the time was something that I needed.”

Salgado said Herrera pushed him to apply for the organization’s scholarship, and he became the scholarship’s first recipient.

“That scholarship helped pay for this semester of college,” he said. “I am the first person in my family to attend college. And if she hadn’t have saved my life, none of this would’ve happened.”

Herrera asked the audience to close their eyes as she read the story of Allen R. Schindler, a Navy sailor beaten to death by two shipmates because of his sexuality in 1992. The mood in the room quickly shifted to a more serious tone.

“This killing is the tragedy that triggered former President Clinton to bring in, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Herrera said about the federal policy not to ask military members about their sexual orientation. “This is what I’m trying to prevent, the hate crimes. If you don’t know your history, it’s going to repeat itself.”

Herrera has helped the LGBTQ community progress over the years. She explained how she has fought for protection and equality for the community locally and has successfully achieved some of these goals.

“Our organization, along with Fairness Fort Worth, changed policies at FWISD to wrap protection for LGBTQ staff and students,” she said, referring to the current laws that protect LGBTQ students from being bullied and staff from losing their jobs over their sexual orientation or identity. “We were the first in the state to do it, Dallas being second, and we’re the only two in the state of Texas that have LGBTQ protection.”

Although the community has made progress within the past few decades, Herrera believes more can still be done and looks at other cities for ideas on how to help better the community.

“Fort Worth has no homeless shelter for our LGBTQ youth,” she said. “We’re working on it, but [the support] is not as strong as it should be. We still have a lot of work to do here in Tarrant County, especially in Fort Worth.”

Nonetheless, Herrera acknowledges the great advancements that the community has accomplished and is excited to see what the future holds.

“The youth of today, I have so much hope in them,” she said. “People always tell me I give them hope, but those kids are giving me hope that this world is going to get better.”

TR student Gabriela Casillas was shocked to learn some of the things Herrera discussed.

“I didn’t realize that things were as bad as they currently are,” Casillas said. “I also did not know there is not a shelter here for the LGBTQ community. And that’s pretty sad.”

Salgado also shared how important the LGBTQ awareness events are to him.

“These kinds of events are extremely important because our job is to educate,” he said. “Like Sharon said, it’s 2017, and we still have so many people that are unaware of all of the struggles that the LGBTQ youth face on a day-to-day basis.”

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