All the heart shaped chocolates in the stores these days reminded me of this e-interview that I did this past summer! I know that part of the process of growing up is figuring out who you are, and I know that the usual teen drama is amplified when teens are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity, because there are so many people who haven’t ever thought about something other than their own experiences. I had the great fortune of connecting with the folks at Free2Luv, an award-winning nonprofit dedicated to rockin’ individuality, celebrating equality, spreading kindness & standing up to bullying through arts & entertainment, and they were gracious enough to have both Tonya (President and Co-Founder of Free2Luv) AND a youth volunteer answer my questions!
How did Free2Luv begin?
1 out of every 3 children experience some form of bullying and 9 out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment at school and online. Further, 20% of high school students say they have seriously considered suicide. As parents, Tonya and Kym Sandis believed this epidemic needed to stop and Free2Luv was born. “We know the scarring and lasting impact bullying has on our youth, robbing them of their innocence and emotionally stripping them of their well-being. Coming from the entertainment industry, we understand the power the arts have to heal, uplift and empower and we utilize this platform to spread our mission of celebrating individuality, rockin’ kindness and standing up to bullying,” says Tonya, President and Co-Founder of Free2Luv.
How can shy teens show their peers that they can be free to love anyone they choose?
We like this question as it opens up the reason why we named our nonprofit Free2Luv. We believe first and foremost, self-love is key, whether you are a teen, child or adult. When you are confident in who you are and treat others with love and respect, you show everyone around you unconditional love.
“If a shy teen wants to advocate everyone’s freedom to love, I recommend they tap into their passion and share from their place of comfort. This can be done through art, music, dance, sports, you name it. We have had youth advocates share poems, art, stories, even their passion for race car driving and they have used it as a platform to spread LUV, kindness and compassion with others,” says Tonya.
“There are many LGBTQ+ groups, either at school or online, that are a great way to express yourself. They are both a safe space and a place where you can share and be yourself. You can also talk about and share things that you love that are related to your identity; i.e. LGBTQ+ books, music, TV shows etc.,” says Free2Luv LGBT Teen Ambassador.
What can teens do if they are in a situation where it is not safe for them to share the message that love is love?
Safety is of the utmost importance. If you feel that an environment is unsafe to share your message that love is love, find a supportive community and/or environment. It could be a gay/straight alliance at school, an online organization such as ours or an informal community gathering.
“Find a safe space online. There are so many people going through the same thing that want to share and speak out, but are not safe to do so in their home or where they live. Finding a place online where you can be yourself and talk to others who are going through the same thing can help so much,” says LGBT Teen Ambassador.
What is the best part of being a teen in today’s society?
“As the Co-Founder of Free2Luv, I work with teens and youth daily and I’m so moved and impressed by how socially aware and conscious they are. If we could focus on that every day instead of all the news we hear through the media and online, there are real, young inspirational people that are true game changers in the world and we are proud to hold hands with them. There are so many wonderful vehicles today that offer youth a way to express their voice that weren’t available even 10 years ago, so it’s a really exciting time to be a teen. And with that, also comes a big responsibility because as easy as it is to spread kindness, new technology can also be used in destructive ways to spread hate. The age-old adage, treat others as you want to be treated, still applies. We need to model kindness and compassion to create a kinder world for all,” says Tonya.
“Technology is a big part of why being a teenager today is amazing. The ability to learn anything and learn quickly, the ability to talk to anyone anywhere in the world, the ability to hold the world in your pocket, the ability to be a part of a movement that is happening on the other side of the world and to speak out and stand up is amazing.
I think another, if not the most amazing part of being a teen today is that we are changing the world for the better every day. We are passionate and we care about the world we live in. We are using our voices and standing up for what is right. It’s so important and wonderful,” says LGBT Teen Ambassador.
What evidence of their work would the Free2luv team love to see in ten year’s time?
We would love to see thousands of advocates holding hands with us in communities around the world sharing our message of love, unity and the importance of kindness and compassion. We are passionate about growing our empowerment events and workshops and reaching more and more communities throughout the U.S. We are especially passionate about sharing our programs with underserved youth who may not normally have access to the type of programming we offer. We know the power of one person to stand up and make a difference and for us, success is one more child becoming self-aware, standing up, speaking out and letting their voice be heard. Will you join us?
check out www.free2luv.org for more details!