I met Sarah Eidelson two years ago during her 2013 re-election campaign. I had just turned 16 and my friend called me and said, “Hey, do you want to knock on some doors and talk to Yale students?” I begrudgingly agreed because he was my friend. In the space of three months, I moved from feeling reluctant and insecure about being inside of Yale to investing five days a week and massive amounts of energy into what I grew to recognize as an incredibly important campaign. I got to know Sarah and her work and was inspired to see a young queer lady in local government taking action on the things that mattered to me most.
My name is Isabel Bate. I am an 18-year-old, white, queer, middle-class resident of New Haven. I’ve lived in New Haven my whole life. I’ve gotten to know our entire city much better in the past few years, engaging with communities across New Haven around issues affecting youth. I’ve worked personally with your alder, Sarah Eidelson, on many of these issues. Like me, she has spent her time as a young person working to make New Haven better for young people. I’m supporting her now because I’ve seen what a difference it makes to have a Ward 1 alder actually bring the voices of Yale students and other young people together to work for the change that our city desperately needs.
I have spent much of this summer knocking on doors talking to people about the unemployment crisis in our city, and how it disproportionately affects youth, people of color and queer people. One day I met a woman who told me, “If you stay in New Haven, you’re going to be miserable. You have to get out if you want to be happy.” This stuck with me because I know she’s right unless things change. The reason I knock on doors is that I’m trying to build a future here. I’m working hard to have hope that things can change. But her words revealed the level of pain and suffering that people experience here that we’re going to have to work through in order to do that.
I’m scared about making my way in a city that already has so few opportunities for people, and especially for young people and queer people. I have seen many incredible friends run away from New Haven because they can’t stand the thought of living here for another year. I’ve lost vital community because people can’t find jobs here and can’t imagine building a future for themselves in the neighborhoods that they grew up in.
For the last two years, I’ve been a part of a group of other queer young people in New Haven. We work to build power and self-respect in the face of violence, hopelessness and discrimination. It is about working through fear to figure out what we want and need to be happy, and then building the self-empowerment and self-respect to go after these things and to build communities that support us. It’s about creating the New Haven we want to live in.
I have had moments of really deep fear that I could not do anything to change things. Moments of fear that our society is right, that nobody cares about young queer people, that nobody will listen to our experiences. But there have also been moments that shattered those fears, when we put on a successful workshop, when I saw a person share their story openly or demand respect from their families. This is the work I do every day.
I’ve been able to dedicate time to developing a caring, empowering community of queer young people because my group is one of sixteen being funded by the city’s Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. This funding exists because of Sarah. She has led her colleagues to prioritize creating opportunities for youth in our city. I need Sarah to be re-elected. With Sarah continuing to fight at the Board, and my continuing to organize my peers, we build a safe, sustainable future for young people in New Haven.
I dropped out of high school two years ago because I felt alienated and erased. Now I’m struggling working a low-wage job, and I know how hard it’s going to be for me to make my way. This is my experience. Every fall hundreds of young people from a variety of backgrounds arrive on Yale’s campus full of hope and expectation. I’m asking all of you who at one point showed up in New Haven at 18 years old to grapple with the differences between the futures we face. It is unacceptable. For years, Sarah has squarely faced that divide and done everything she can to close the gap. The work is not done.
Isabel Bate is a New Haven resident and an LGBT organizer. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org .