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Dal Long

April 1998

Gays, Lesbians, and the Peace Corps: a Review of an On-line Resource for Queer Youth

It is nearing the end of the academic year, and many graduating high school and college seniors are contemplating the best way to spend the next couple of years of their lives. Maybe college or a career aren't part of your plans yet. A few of you are probably considering traveling abroad to teach or perform volunteer work. Maybe a stint in the Peace Corps is in the back of your mind. I know I thought of it. Spending two years tutoring English to children in the South Pacific or the Middle East seemed rewarding and exciting. Then I thought to myself, "My god, why would I want to do that? Being gay is hard enough in the United States, what would happen to me in a nation like Saudi Arabia? Would I want to spend two more years in the closet, and if I'm out would I face harsh discrimination or worse?"

I conducted some research on-line and discovered a surprisingly extensive network of resources for gays and lesbians in the Peace Corps. Kevin H. Souza, a former Peace Corps volunteer in the African nation of Malawi, maintains a vast web site that addresses issues ranging from the status of gay rights in numerous nations, coming out to native friends, reaching out to native gays, and handling discrimination within the Peace Corps and the creation of support groups for glb volunteers. The site's intended audience is gay, lesbian, and bisexual returned Peace Corps volunteers, but resources abound for young gays and lesbians considering joining the Peace Corps. Dick Lipez highlights the strengths gay and lesbian volunteers bring to the Peace Corps "adaptability and fortitude" and offers arguments on how experiences and skills learned in the Peace Corps would not only improve the third world lives of the people you help, but also benefit activism is U.S. society once you return home.

Twenty-five journals and essays, all written by gay and lesbian former volunteers, are on-line and describe their experiences surviving as a homosexual in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. A mentoring program offers to match young people interested in serving in the Peace Corps with a glb former volunteer who served in the country of your interest. There are support groups available in many nations, where Peace Corps volunteers founded their own groups or were involved in the formation of native support groups. Particularly interesting are Tom Meyers' chronicle of his founding of Club Lambda, a support group for gay, lesbian, and bisexual Liberians, and Steven Baines' tale of his experiences as both a gay man and as an African-American serving the Peace Corps in Bolivia. Admittedly, loneliness is the biggest hardship queer volunteers face in the Peace Corps, due to the lack of other queer members or the deeply closeted natives, but there are success stories, and advice is offered on handling sexual relationships with fellow volunteers or with native gays, and when a relationship may or may not be appropriate or wise.

I was surprised to find such a resource on the Internet, and it is very reassuring to know that more and more organizations which address gay and lesbian concerns exist for a number of avenues in life. Some time ago, I decided not to pursue working abroad and applied to law school instead. However, I recommend visiting this site regardless of whether or not volunteering for the Peace Corps or working abroad appeals to you. The journals written by former volunteers are interesting and very informative of gay life in the world's cultures. Check out the site at http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Village/1457/

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I welcome questions and conversation. I can be reached at dallasj@iname.com. My home page is located at http://www.inlink.com/~texas


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