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This year, WUNC’s Youth Reporting Institute, launched our first advanced cohort. Our goal was to hone in on the journalistic skills alumni developed in earlier iterations of the youth reporting institute. Inviting 8 alumni back to the institute allowed us to foster more interaction and opportunities for learning between WUNC Staff and our youth reporters. Along with shadowing various departments, youth reporters produced a diverse array of stories. Their topics ranged from the history of the Durham Black Sox and the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party to the lasting impact of Hurricane Florence on rural communities.

Changing the narrative and creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth

Kaliq Alexander, Cree Alston, Adrian Williams, Joyah Morris, Bria Parks, Aijah Monroe, Asia Monroe (left to right) standing in a single file line. Everyone is wearing either green, tan, or white colors in a forest area.
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Kaliq Alexander (on left) invited friends Cree Alston, Adrian Williams, Joyah Morris, Bria Parks, Aijah Monroe, Asia Monroe (left to right) from the LGBTQ+ community for a photo shoot to commemorate his third year being on testosterone and to celebrate standing in their truth. They wore green, tan and white to signify calmness and grounding.

Each summer, youth reporters are tasked with telling stories from their communities. Youth reporter Parys Smith spoke with Kaliq Alexander about his trans journey and intention behind creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ Youth.

Editor's note: This report mentions suicide and self-harm.

Over the summer, Kaliq Alexander hosted a photo shoot at Dorthea Dix Park to commemorate his third year of being on testosterone. Alexander invited friends from the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate standing in their truth.

"I just hope we look good," Alexander said. "I hope we execute the vision, I hope we just connect as people in the community because it's rare that Black queer people can come together."

He was intentional about every aspect of the shoot, from the colors to the location. The green and white represented grounding and calmness, and the flowers symbolized Alexander's rebirth.

Asia Alston, Aijah Monroe, and Bria Parks (left to right) holding hands wearing various shades of green and tan dresses in a forest area.
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Asia Alston, Aijah Monroe, and Bria Parks (left to right) share the sisterhood of being their authentic selves.

Posing, laughing, smiling for the camera, Alexander and his friends told their own story because they said queer narratives are often not portrayed accurately among the general public. Bria Parks said mainstream media pushes a false narrative about her transgender peers.

"I think they portray trans people as there's some type of like weird organism or something — like they act as if they're not people," Parks said.

Aijah Monroe, who identifies as a transfeminine person, said the criticism and judgment is particularly harsh.

"The media and the public basically portray trans female(s), just still being looked at as the gender that we were assigned at birth," Monroe said.

According to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, the murder of trans people nearly doubled from 2017 to 2021. Alexander knows this statistic all too well.

"When you check a lot of boxes, as far as Black, as far as trans, as far as disabled — it's scary to live in the world that isn't made for you," he said.

According to the Trevor Project, Black transgender and nonbinary youth reportedly are at a higher risk of suicide 𑁋 59% have contemplated taking their life, and over 26% attempted suicide last year. Because of the pervasive stigma and stereotypes that exist regarding transgender people, it can be a risk to transition, but Alexander made the choice in order to stay alive.

“My transition was about my comfortability," he said. "It was about making the decision to live because as a girl, I didn’t want to be alive, to be honest. I hated who I was. So it was like, 'Why stay alive if I’m gonna hate the body that I’m in?'"

Photo of Kaliq Alexander holding a white bouquet of flowers, wearing all white clothing and standing in front of a white background.
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams 
Kaliq Alexander holds flowers representing the rebirth and transition he went through to find himself. Also, he said it represents the power he found within himself and accepting himself regardless of others' opinions.

"So sometimes the people assume that like, you want to be cis, or you want to be them," Alexander added. "And for me, that’s not the case, I (don't) have the desirability to be like you, I just want to be me. I just want to be happy. I just want to be content with life.”

Growing up, Alexander lived in a Christian household in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He said living in a southern, predominantly white environment, he battled with the lack of inclusivity and acceptance; that battle intensified with his family.

Asia Alston, Aijah Monroe, Cree Alston, Bria Park standing (Top row, left to right) and Adrian Williams, Kaliq Alexander, and Joyah Morris sitting on the grass (Bottom row, left to right) laughing and smiling in front of a white background.
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
This group photo was a significant part of the story Alexander wanted to tell throughout the photo shoot. He specifically wanted to capture the joy of Black and brown LGBTQ+ people in his community.
Top row, from left to right: Asia Alston, Aijah Monroe, Cree Alston, Bria Park. Bottom row, from left to right; Adrian Williams, Kaliq Alexander, and Joyah Morris

“A lot of people in my family say that they will love me in spite of it. And that perspective, to me, is dumb," Alexander said. "The only reason that I’m here today is because I transitioned. So if you love me in spite of that, you’re basically dismissing who I am. You’re dismissing everything that is Kaliq.”

In spite of his family’s opinion, Alexander wanted to create a community that affirmed and embraced his identity. His next step was coming out at work. Alexander is a daycare teacher, and when he transitioned he was hesitant about how his students would receive him.

“If you look it up online, like 'how to come out as trans as a daycare worker?' The only results usually that you see are people saying, 'Don't do it, you're gonna get fired, people are gonna assume that you're a pedophile,'” Alexander said. “And I was scared because I was like, 'Okay, the kids are not going to get it.' But when I told them, they were just like ... 'All right, Mr. Kaliq, it is.' It was never a problem.”

Over the summer, Alexander worked for the first time at the Rainbow Collective for Change Camp, helping the youth in the LGBTQ+ community and allies. He tries to show his students that even though they may have a lot of boxes when it comes to their identity, there is still space for them in the world.

"So I think, for me ... it's the kids like the next generations to come. (They) help me or push me to keep going in spite of the transphobia, in spite of people misgendering me, people using my dead name, all of it," Alexander said. "But it's kind of just like, you have to find something that makes you want to do it. And I think the kids are that for me."

The positive feedback Alexander received at work uplifted and affirmed his transition. So he passes it forward. On the first day of camp, he wanted students to define the components that made up their identities. He said there are a lot of assumptions about teachers who identify as LGBTQ+, but his only goal is acceptance.

"I think that people always try to say that we're trying to push a narrative onto children, and I think is the opposite. If anything, we're teaching them love," he said. "We're teaching them how to be kind. We're teaching them really respect.  I'm just teaching them what the world really looks like."

The photo shoot and the lessons he gave his students are all small building blocks of the world Alexander is trying to create for himself: a world with love and community where diverse people can reclaim their narratives and celebrate their authentic selves. Adrian Williams said this photo shoot was more than affirming — it was transformative.

“So what this means to me is (a) community," Williams said. "It's family, it's leading with authenticity and vulnerability for folks to be able to make space in a world that doesn't want to create for them to say, hey, we're here we exist, our lives are valuable. And we are entitled to happiness and joy, just like everyone else."

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 988.

CrisisText Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.

Parys Smith is a Durham native and a rising Senior at Riverside High School. She loves Music, the Arts, English, and Fashion.
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