BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Eli Betts, the youngest Queens Pride Parade grand marshal in more than two decades, is committed to using his new platform to advocate for LGBTQ youth. Betts, 20, has been a member of Queens Community House’s (QCH) Generation Q youth program since the day that he was of age to attend. The Queens Tribune sat down with Betts for an interview at Generation Q in Forest Hills.
When did you begin attending Generation Q?
I remember being 12 years old and walking by the old Generation Q office in Astoria. I didn’t know what Generation Q was, but I saw the pride flag, went home to Google it and found out I had to be 13 years old to attend. I was 11 years old when I found out that I wasn’t an average kid. It was around that age when everyone in school began crushing and I knew something was different about me when I had a crush on a girl, but I decided to worry about that at another time. It wasn’t until I was 12 that I realized I was queer. I was glad that I didn’t have to wait a full year to join Generation Q. The day after my 13th birthday, I remember walking into Generation Q like, “Hi, I’m 13.”
What was high school like during your transitional phase?
I transitioned before high school and it wasn’t too bad. I attended Townsend Harris High School in Flushing. The teachers and administration were accepting. The first day I walked into school, I found my counselor and said, “This is my birth name and this is what I want to be called.” My counselor said, “OK, do you want me to email all of your teachers?” I was surprised with how understanding the administration was. I was really lucky.
What was it like when your parents learned you were queer?
It was just my dad and he had an easier time understanding me being lesbian or bisexual than he did when I came out as transgender. It took a long time for him to come around to me changing my name and using different pronouns, but I just stayed adamant about it and eventually everyone had to accept it.
What’s the best advice you can give to someone who is afraid to come out?
If you’re queer, but are not sure if you want to come out, it’s always good to find a community. Even if it isn’t your friends who you already have, your parents or your family, just finding some kind of community, youth center or online groups can be super helpful and just give you that nudge forward to maybe inform people about yourself.
What do you plan to advocate for in the near future?
I want to give more voice to the youth because there are a lot of things we work on at Generation Q, like how to talk to your school, and I want to help with that. It’s great to see youth coming forward and being able to stand up for themselves and their peers.
What’s next once you complete your time at Generation Q?
I don’t know what I want to do professionally yet, but I know that I’m not going to stop advocating for queer youth and making changes that can empower them more.