See the transformative power of mentoring.
Finding a Fit
Powerful things happen when a respected, experienced person shows interest and goes out of their way to help another individual develop, especially when the individual being helped is open to being influenced. Good mentors allow themselves to be observed, and effective mentees make it a point to watch, question and follow up.
Each mentor-scholar pair at Point is unique, but one thing that the most successful pairs have in common is sincerity and a strong commitment to mentoring. Shown here are links to some wonderful examples of our mentor-scholar pairs at Point.
Jake and Alan
Point’s Mentoring Program means more to me than any other aspect of the scholarship award. Of course the funds are wonderful, and meeting other scholars has allowed me to enhance my family, but the Mentoring Program has given me something I could have never imagined having. I’m thankful for my mentor Alan, and I am so grateful to be paired with someone who completely understands me, and is there for me 120% of the time.
Alan is always honest, and he’s always supportive. I think that what has been most helpful is his ability to keep me motivated. With his honesty, he allows me to pick goals that I know are attainable, and then he is there the whole time to help me reach them. I have learned simple things, such as time management and organization. But I have also learned how to approach difficult tasks, and how to handle unforeseen problems.
If someone were to ask me what we’ve done to achieve a successful mentoring relationship, I think it would be our commitment to meet once a week. I know that not every pair has a chance to do this in person, but even simply texting each other once a week or talking on the phone makes me feel like he is there for me no matter how busy his schedule is.
Through my mentorship with Alan, I have learned how to really push myself. I’ve seen an incredible amount of confidence grow within myself. He has helped me feel like I can achieve anything as long as I put my mind to it. Most importantly, he has taught me that if I need help, it’s okay to ask. By asking for help, and having someone be there to guide me through something difficult doesn’t mean I’m any less capable or strong. It’s also very nice to have someone there sharing my triumphs and accomplishments as they happen.
I reached a turning point in my life when Proposition 8 passed in California in 2008. It made me realize that these battles would only be won when each of us would take personal responsibility for creating change. It became so much more important to me to find ways to give back to my LGBT family. And when I found Point – with its goals planted in the foundations of advocacy, young leaders, and education – I knew I had found an organization which had an inspiring approach that I believe in.
As with any relationship, each mentor/mentee pair can find the personal way that is best for engaging each other. I think Jake and I both benefited from having a consistent expectation for meeting regularly and in person. This was especially important in the first few months. Eating together (IHOP and Canter’s Deli seem to be our most frequent places!) allows us the chance to get together without being too distracted. And while we can now certainly engage in other ways, I believe it’s still important to make that time for us to just talk and listen.
Jake is wonderfully communicative, and that helps me to know what is going on in his life. Our mentees lives are often very busy with studying, family, friends, school activities, and their advocacy work. Jake telling me about his activities/priorities allows me to get a feel for how he’s doing. This tells me whether there is a lot of stress, or what great things are occurring, and if there is an opportunity to assist him.
I say this all the time, but it continually rings true: I may be the “mentor” and Jake may be the “mentee”, but I am the one who is learning the most from this relationship! Jake is an amazing advocate for the transgender and gender non-conforming community. Before I met him, I only knew a few people who were transgender, but didn’t really have much understanding of the “T” in our LGBT family or the unique experiences they face. Because of Jake and the world he has opened up to me, I find myself able to begin engaging as an ally for this community, as well as to make some wonderful new friends.
There is a lot in the world today that can cause the LGBT community to be fearful. Whether one is concerned about elections, legislation, court judgments, bullying, suicides, or societal/cultural discrimination, it can often be a bit depressing to be an LGBT person. But as a result of my mentorship with Jake, I get a glimpse of what the future will look like. I get the opportunity to see the strength of a generation that will make extraordinary gains in the fight for true equality. I get to see Jake’s enthusiasm, his confidence, and his action. That changes me. He changes how I see the future and he convinces me that I should be optimistic. When it all comes down to it, Jake gives me the reason to believe. Jake gives me hope.
Brennan and JD
The Mentoring Program is an integral element of Point’s support to LGBTQ scholars. Over the past couple of years, I have met inspiring and accomplished LGBTQ professionals from many different fields, and the Point staff, my fellow scholars, and my mentor have truly become my chosen family. As a young LGBTQ woman, finding examples of people “like me” doing the things I wanted to do with my life was so limited. Since the Mentoring Program paired me with JD, I have someone to emulate, a path and a series of accomplishments I can point to and say, “I want to do that.” As a queer woman in the film industry, JD has been where I am now. She understands my passion for my craft and the challenges I face, and she provides invaluable guidance and support in my development as an artist and an advocate.
JD and I have a long distance mentorship, but we are in constant contact with one another. We call, email, and text each other– she’s become a really important part of my life. I know I can contact her any time, and she’ll be there to celebrate my accomplishments, help me face challenges, and offer much needed perspective (and laughter!!). I think communication is vitally important to the success of any mentoring relationship.
Over the summer, I shot a film in New Orleans. It was hot– like, triple digits hot– and our shoots were either outdoors or in an un-air conditioned apartment (with a flea-ridden dog!). JD made herself available to me – offering advice, providing encouragement, and helping me stay positive in even the most frustrating of circumstances.
Before I met JD, I had no concept of how the film industry worked or the steps I needed to take to accomplish my goals. Now I know where I want to be, and JD has helped me identify what I need to do to get there. When things get tough, she reminds me that my goals are attainable. I definitely have more confidence and more hope for my future as a result of her presence in my life. Film is a difficult industry to break into — JD’s faith in my abilities is the push that gets me through when my own confidence falters.
Point Foundation is probably my most favorite LGBTQ organization, and I have so enjoyed volunteering in a variety of capacities for the last five years. In that time, I have had the opportunity to meet and get to know many of the scholars, and I am both inspired and impressed by them. Being in Los Angeles and working both in film and LGBTQ activism, I’ve made myself available to them as a resource.
Now I have taken a more formal role, and I believe my background in film, activism and teaching (plus all my mothering skills!), made me an easy fit for Point’s Mentoring Program. In short, I make myself available for phone calls, visits and emails with Brennan, who is my assigned mentee. I do my utmost to encourage, challenge and aid in Brennan’s success in her field of study.
Jeff and Herb
I think that the mentoring aspect of Point is just as, if not even more valuable than the financial support that I receive from Point. The organization spends a lot of energy, time and consideration in pairing lifelong mentors that can really fill a void in a scholar’s life, whatever their experience. For me, Herb was a perfect match, as I needed someone who could understand the intensity of a PhD program, but also someone who knew how to balance the demands of being a creative professional. Herb had previously been the chair of a PhD program in psychology, a field related to mine, which is sociology. And both of us have careers involved with art and entertainment. While I am a new Point Scholar and we have only had our mentoring relationship for less than a year, my learning from this partnership has been invaluable.
One thing that really helped was our first meeting, Herb said, “Let’s aim to meet at least once a month, and if we aren’t able to meet that often, we will at least have set a really great vision of how often we should be in contact.” I think this really reframed the way I looked at our mentoring relationship. If you know anything about Herb’s schedule or of mine, it is an understatement to say that we are both really busy. We also live in multiple locations, but our common overlap is in LA – just not always at the same time. Despite this, we have at least met or had an in depth phone call at least every other month, and knowing that our goal should be to do this even more, it’s helpful to know that we can and should meet even more. Herb’s partner also invites me to play tennis whenever we are all in LA. So even though Herb and I are both really busy, there is a strong effort to connect as often as we can.
Herb has been amazing at checking in with me, especially when I fell into a black hole of contact with the outside world due to grad school. My first quarter at Stanford this past fall was really hard for me, adjusting to a lot of sudden changes with everything. I basically shut myself off from everyone for about a month as I feverishly tried to learn advanced statistics and write final papers, while still continuing the same photography work I had been doing before. Instead of getting upset with my sudden loss of contact with people, Herb would gently check in with me to make sure I was okay, and let me know he was there for me if I needed someone to talk to. It was so helpful to know that someone cared about how I was doing, and knew exactly what I was going through.
Herb has been really inspiring for me – and has really pushed me to think big to really make an impact with my work. He has challenged me with really critical questions about LGBTQ issues that I had not really thought of. Also, many of my professors in school are not LGBTQ “experts,” and having Herb, my resident LGBTQ academic expert feeding me literature to read and think about, is such a benefit. Herb has also really taught me that it’s okay to relax, and continues to remind me to take care of my personal relationships and my own well-being.
At the end of the day, the most beneficial change in myself that I have identified thanks to Herb, is that he has not only pushed the bar higher, but helped me redefine the bar that I have set for myself. Having Herb as a mentor and role model who has such an amazing balance of work, life, friends, relationships, and success is inspiring. Each time we meet, I learn something new. Our mentor/mentee relationship has definitely been a highlight of my Point Scholar experience.
Those who know me are familiar with my experience since childhood that being gay is a blessing and also with my absolute and concrete conviction that this community exists for a purpose, in the “cosmic sense of asking the Universe” some form of “Why I am here?” / “What I am supposed to do with my life?”.
My explanation of both of these points typically begins with my explanation that, in my view, “coming out” is not in fact so much about saying “I am gay”, as it is an existential moment in which you realize that quite literally ALL of the forces of the Universe are pushing you to be something/someone you are not. “All of the forces of the Universe” needs to be taken literally, albeit restricted to the human, social level. It includes religion, law, education, family, peer pressure, ……… and infinitum (literally). To me, “coming out” is the act of standing up to those forces and saying, “Actually, that is not my experience. And my experience is between God and me and no one else. If someone has difficulty with who I am and how I have been created, I can actually understand that. After all, I am aware of the direction and intensity of all the forces in the Universe; I experience them! Therefore, I can both understand and have compassion for the difficulties experienced by people, obviously starting with my wonderful family who has always been very loving. They have the intention of expressing that love to me, including actually through pressuring me to be someone I am not. I recognize they have no education, experience, or training in relating to what I have come to a place of clarity about. Therefore I am willing to be their teacher and to, in essence, lead them to discover what is literally another way to be in the world: a way that is literally functionally autonomous and in which one discovers one’s experience and values not from the outside but from the inside and through experience and connection with the literal Universe.”
For the most recent era of my life, one of the things that has been particularly central for me has been Point Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to finding stellar young people in our community with potential to become significant leaders, not only within their own lives, but within our community and in the process of our community leading the larger one to “another way to be in the world.” Point operates by not only providing some degree of financial assistance to those who need it, but also by providing individual and collective mentoring both in the specific educational and professional sense and in the sense of providing guidance about anything and everything in life. We operate from the observation that our community and our lives are highly distinctive in the sense that we “are born into families that (typically) do not share our identity.” Most humans grow up in situations and families who understand the challenges of growing up and support them in navigating the obstacles – some of which are, in fact, specific to identity and “minority status.” GLBT people literally have typically over my lifetime both felt they were totally alone in their experience of discovering they “are different” and they had to “make it up out of nothing” in becoming who they were becoming.
Point provides perhaps the first viable actual “intergenerational community” in which younger people can both relate in very open and “normal” ways with older people but also learn, openly, from the experiences the previous generations have had. What, for example, other minorities go through with their Jewish, African American, Muslim, Korean, Hispanic, etc. families, our Scholars experience with their mentors and our Point community. And, incidentally, it should be made clear that what one gets from an intergenerational Point community does not replace what one gets from one’s “other” family(s) but, in fact, adds to it and deepens it. What we in Point discover, in fact, is that being a Point Scholar often results in our Scholars having vastly closer and more authentic relationships with their families of origin.
What is relevant, however, to this discussion is what our Point applicants and Scholars have taught us about identity and naming. We have discovered over the years that we have continually needed to expand the options we provide for identifying both one’s “sexual orientation” and one’s “gender identity.” Young people keep teaching us how limited we are in our thinking. The ultimate value of mentoring is that it flows in both directions. That is why, although I appreciate people’s resistance to our seemingly endless addition of letters in designating our community, I say let’s follow our young, embrace their inspiring leadership in inclusion and just find a way to language it. Perhaps, ‘Leg- BIT-Que-A Community’. Knowing our young people, they will ultimately lead us even beyond this, but we are determined to keep up with them!
Shawn and Nick
Anyone who has seen an episode of ER knows that being an emergency medical physician is an intense and all consuming job. Though stationed in a hospital much smaller than Chicago’s County General, Dr. Nick Gorton spends most of his days and nights doing what any typical ER doc might: fixing broken bones, treating nasty infections, and, well, saving lives. And if that is not enough, he enjoys his days off from the emergency room volunteering as a primary-care provider at Lyon-Martin Women’s Health Services in San Francisco.
At Lyon-Martin, Gorton touches the lives of a variety of patients, and transgender women in particular. What is left of his energy is funneled into pro-bono medical consultation for the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project, and the Transgender Law Center. An endless well of commitment and passion for transgender medical care, Gorton—presumably in his sleep—writes chapters for medical textbooks and scholarly articles for publication in journals. Last year, along with two other physicians, Gorton lobbied to have sexual orientation and gender identity included in the non-discrimination clause of the Code of Ethics for Emergency Physicians.
In terms of commitment to the LGBT community and professional excellence, Gorton is a star. No one would fault him for saying no to one more volunteer job. Yet, when he read an article about the Point Foundation Mentoring Program last summer, he felt somewhat of a calling.
“I kept seeing Point Foundation pop up in various venues here and there. Then I read the article, and I thought, ‘I should do this.'”
Gorton, who never had an official mentor, is concerned with what he sees as a shortage of successful professionals in the trans community. “I think that the people who are [successful] should at least put themselves out there. Transgender people are disproportionately of low socioeconomic status. Two-thirds make less than 25,000 dollars a year, and one-third make less than 10,000. So models for successful trans people are not as common as models for successful gay or lesbian people.”
Gorton has approached his mentoring relationship with Shawn Luby with the same tenacity that he pursues his other activism, philanthropy, and professional roles. Luby, a 2005 Point Scholar majoring in Clinical Laboratory Sciences and University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill (UNC), describes Gorton as helping him become a better student, activist, and person.
Given Gorton’s schedule, his commitment to Luby is inspiring. He describes Gorton as follows: “He is always there. Whenever I e-mail him, whether it is about a technical question regarding something I am working on in school or whatever, he responds immediately”. Over e-mail and on the phone they have discussed topics ranging from the subjects Luby studies in his classes to how to bridge the gap between the LGB and trans communities. When asked to describe the mentoring relationship, Luby said: “I think this story sums it up. Last December, I was at school preparing to study for finals, when my partner called and said I had received what looked like a care package. She asked me who it was from and I said ‘I don’t know, I don’t really have any parents’. It was from Nick. This was a really meaningful, but highly unusual thing for me. Here was someone who regardless of what I did and regardless of the decisions I made, they were going to be there to help guide me. It is really powerful for me to know that Nick went to high school in Durham, he went to medical school where I go to school, and he is such a successful trans man who is an important person in my own community. Having an influence like that in my life has given me the idea that I can keep setting higher goals for myself.”
Luby isn’t the only person who has been influenced by the mentoring relationship. Gorton has also been touched, as has the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (the triangle) community. As part of a required service project for Point Foundation, Luby wanted to develop a list of health resources for trans people in the triangle. What Luby ended up actually doing, with Gorton’s help, was something much more substantial. They began a community effort to try to improve communication between the trans community in the triangle and medical care providers. Gorton set up meetings with doctors, professors, and other health care providers to help get the project off the ground; he even offered to hold trainings for physicians and has done lectures for the medical school on trans health. Luby organized his friends and acquaintances to alert them to the many services available. And instead of a simple list of resources, Luby states, “It has morphed into a much larger project that has involved collaborating with existing low income clinics with the ultimate goal of creating a free health clinic for the trans community”. Gorton described Luby as helping him to connect to a community that he cares deeply about in North Carolina, where he went to high school, college and medical school. “Shawn has a connection with the local transgendered group, and without him, the local trans community may not know how to get to the free clinic or know that the life saving services are there”.
Even more remarkable is that Gorton and Luby have made such an impact given that they live on opposite sides of the country. Luby stated that at first he lamented the fact that his mentor was not in the same city, but once he saw how accessible and committed Gorton was, realized the distance did not matter. As for Gorton, he takes the initiative to connect with his mentee by not always relying on Luby to reach out. Luby was even more touched by Gorton’s “Good Luck with Finals” care-package given that he never informed Gorton of his school schedule. “He must have gone to my school’s website and looked up our academic calendar to know when to send the package.” Gorton advises others in long-distance mentoring relationships that finding an efficient way of communicating up front is key. “Establish conversations in whatever way works for the two of you…. Instant Messaging, email, phone…” Gorton also makes it a priority to see Luby in person, he has already been to UNC once this year and will go again at the end of the summer. (As an added bonus, Gorton reports that all travel to see Luby is tax deductible.) Gorton has also made clear that he will cover travel expenses for any conferences related to trans medical care, or any other professional or activist community event Luby might be interested in attending.
Gorton’s theory on the benefit of successful trans role models is the same that underlies the purpose of the Point Foundation Mentoring Program. We feel strongly that contact with our nation’s LGBT and straight-allied leaders is essential for student who have had the idea that they cannot be out and successful driven into them from early childhood. Gorton and Luby serve as an example of the power of the mentoring relationship to change lives, not only for our scholars, but also for our mentors and our shared communities.
Dan and Bill
Hearing Dr. Owen’s stories of what it was like to live as a gay man in the 1980s and 1990s and treating AIDS patients is a rare and inspiring experience for me, and it will certainly shape the physician I hope to become in the future. His words also underscore the importance of sharing our history with the next generation of LGBT Americans. As a third-year med student, who is attending the George Washington University School of Medicine and is aspiring to become a primary care physician that specializes in HIV and LGBT health, life can be quite challenging navigating clinical clerkships and preparing to apply for residency programs. As such, I found Point’s Mentoring Program to be one of the most attractive aspects of the scholarship award, when I decided to apply over a year ago, in hopes of finding an esteemed and experienced LGBT role model to advise me during this pivotal time in my career. This past summer I was delighted to learn my mentor would be Dr. Bill Owen. He and I have since formed a friendship that has already proven invaluable in charting my future career trajectory.
Although we live on opposite sides of the country, Dr. Owen and I have had many fruitful discussions over the phone regarding my service project on the history of HIV/AIDS in America. For my project, I am creating an exhibit that will inform the next generation of LGBT Americans and the general public of the challenges our community overcame and the tragedies we endured in the face of AIDS. To help realize my project’s vision, I formed a partnership with the Velvet Foundation, which is an organization with the mission of building a national LGBT history museum. After reviewing my project with me, Dr. Owen connected me with his colleagues who have made valuable contributions to help with my project. For example, they are lending an original red armband, a prototype of the first AIDS awareness ribbon, as well as numerous photos and newspaper clippings detailing the Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights (BAPHR) development and the controversy surrounding the sixth International AIDS Conference in San Francisco, in 1990.
Because LGBT Americans still face tremendous health disparities, fostering such relationships between experienced and future LGBT health providers is a critical piece of ensuring a healthier future for our community. I am confident that with Dr. Owen as my mentor, I will have many opportunities to accelerate and focus my career that I would not have had otherwise.
Dr. Bill Owen
Point generally likes to pair mentors with Point Scholars who are in the same geographic area. However, my pairing was a bit different because my scholar lives and attends medical school in Washington, D.C. while I live in San Francisco. The reason Point approved a long-distance mentorship is that Dan O’Neill indicated that he is strongly considering doing a residency in the San Francisco Bay Area. Because of the nearly 3,000 miles separating us, Dan and I have “met” several times since autumn 2011 via both conference calls and e-mail exchanges. I have had an opportunity to comment on his Community Service Project (CSP) as it evolved.
I finally had the opportunity to meet Dan in person at Point’s Regional Leadership Forum (RLF) that was held at the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco on Saturday, March, 3, 2012. I was very impressed at the enthusiasm of all of the young present and past Point Scholars who attended, including gay men, lesbians and transgender people. Shortly after introducing ourselves, we all went out to a local Thai eatery near the Powell Street cable car hub and had a wonderful time hearing about what people were doing in their careers and in their lives. I was amazed that Dan was not the only medical student to attend the RLF. There were at least three other medical students, all from Northern California, and an RN who is studying to be a nurse practitioner.
Seeing this group of charismatic and focused young scholars made me feel confident that the leadership of our next generation of LGBT people is in good hands. In this day and age, when it is “OK to be gay”, I think that the concept of mentoring, that through small groups like AMSA-GPIM, BAPHR, and GLMA, helped me and many other LGBT students and physicians to feel less isolated and to harness our energies to help our community, still is a necessary and vital tool to help our sisters and brothers in the early stage of their careers as healers. I feel honored to have been asked, through Point’s Mentoring Program, to contribute some of the values passed down to me by my own gay mentors to the shining stars of our next generation of LGBT leaders.