Last year, after watching Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the 2013 VMAs, college student Stephen Lovegrove reached out to MTV Act, saying, “My school fired me and took away my financial aid purely because of my sexual orientation, so I understand what it’s like to face discrimination.”
We interviewed him at the time to talk about the discrimination he was going through, and now Stephen reached out again to say things are much better in his life for this year’s VMAs. Yes, it’s proof again that it gets better! Check out our interview with Stephen from last year, and take a look at what he has going on. He has great ideas for how you can stand up for LGBTQ rights and also advice on what you can do if you face work discrimination based on your sexual orientation.
ACT: What’s changed since the last time we spoke?
STEPHEN: A lot, actually, and I mean that in the best way! (Smiles.) I am now a student at Winthrop University in a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s a beautiful community of people that is progressive, diverse, and vibrant in every sense of the word. I get to participate with the Safe Zones program here, and I get to volunteer with various LGBTQ nonprofits in the local area.
This year, I started hosting a talk show on YouTube interviewing leading voices from around the world about spirituality, sexuality, hope, and personal growth. I have so much fun planning and recording all of those. Most recently, I am in the planning stages for a new project that I think will be my favorite one ever. I can’t say much right now, but be on the lookout for something big arriving in the next year.
ACT: Can you tell us about the Safe Zones program and how people can get involved?
STEPHEN: Sure! I am the director of the Safe Zones program at Winthrop University. Our goal is to increase understanding about LGBTQ issues in our student body and to create intentional safe spaces for all students. We are still celebrating the success we had last year educating faculty, staff, and students, as well as the tangible steps we took to make our community more diverse and inclusive. I’m confident this year will be our best one yet!
Most universities have an LGBTQ support program of some kind with training available for students and employees, and I would encourage everyone who has that option to take advantage of it. But if your school doesn’t have a program like that already, apply for one. Start something new on your campus, and I promise you’ll be amazed at the change you get to be a part of. And wherever you go, create safe space. You can be a safe place for the people you love.
ACT: You also volunteer to help homeless LGBTQ youth. What’s something people should know about the high rate of homelessness with LGBTQ youth, and how can people help?
STEPHEN: 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. This statistic would indicate that queer teens are much more likely to be homeless than their straight counterparts. LGBTQ youth are often at great risk — seven times as likely to be sexually assaulted and seven times as likely to be suicidal. I think these numbers indicate a national emergency. If we don’t do something to help queer youth, many of them won’t even make it to adulthood, and those that do will struggle greatly as adults.
I encourage you to find a local youth center that helps LGBTQ kids. While these centers are often small and don’t receive lots of press, they have a massive impact on local communities and individual lives. In Charlotte, we are blessed to have Time Out Youth, a phenomenal organization that supports all the queer teenagers in our area.
ACT: If someone is facing job discrimination because of their sexual orientation, what do you recommend they do?
STEPHEN: First of all, please know that this world is full of spectacular people who will love and support you. It’s easy when you’re facing discrimination to feel like the world is against you. In reality, there are plenty of supportive communities out there. I would encourage people to find safe spaces where they feel like they belong and can really thrive as themselves.
Discrimination can be challenged, though. The Human Rights Campaign provides great assistance to individuals who have faced discrimination in the workplace, often winning cases in the legal system and causing policy changes in companies and organizations. If that’s a route you want to go, you have that option, and you can be an agent of change in our society.
ACT: Last year you reached out to us after being moved by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s performance of “Same Love” at the VMAs. How do you think that song (and other songs with social messages) can help people?
STEPHEN: “Same Love” came out (no pun intended) at a key moment in my life. That song helped me believe that I could love another human being, that my love was good and real and equal to every other human being. I think songs have the ability to affect our hearts more than any other form of media because we listen to them over and over again. My generation tends to tune out the social messages of cable news and political gatherings, but we’re paying attention to what’s on the charts. Those messages matter.
ACT: Who do you think will win this year’s Best Video with a Social Message?
STEPHEN: I was afraid you were going to ask this! It’s such a hard question because this year’s nominations are all extraordinary. Not just saying that, I really feel that this year was full of excellent and meaningful videos. I think Beyoncé has a good chance of going home with this award for “Pretty Hurts,” because that song has such a needed message for our generation. Also, I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t a member of that fandom.
At the same time, I’m personally rooting for J. Cole’s “Crooked Smile.” That video brought me to tears the first time I watched it, and I appreciate how it highlights the injustice and inequality that is still a common experience in America today. Whatever video wins, every nomination has started a conversation about things that matter, and I’m grateful to MTV for adding this category.
Photo: (Stephen Lovegrove)
See how you can get involved with the Human Rights Campaign.