Students in the Gay-Straight Alliance are used to rushing through their lunches on Tuesday afternoons and their gathering on March 31 was no exception as each strived not to miss a single word from special guest, Mr. Mateo Williamson. A graduate of the University of Arizona, Mateo recently relocated from his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona to Newark, New Jersey where he now works as a Health Counselor with Covenant House, a shelter and crisis center. Mateo’s work at Covenant House helps to shed light on the problem of homelessness among American youth. Mateo shared the startling fact that about 40% of the young people he serves in Newark are LGBT people, many of whom have faced rejection from their families.
This is a matter of particular importance to Mateo given that he has been living as a transgender male for the past few years. Mateo guided the GSA in an illuminating discussion on the difference between sexuality and gender identity. He used his personal story to help the group better understand what it means to be a transgendered person and to see some of the various ways in which a person may self-identify. Having come from a conservative Catholic family, Mateo also discussed his struggle with religion. He said his transition was more than a physical change but a mental and spiritual journey as well. It was a resurrection of sorts, a “new life” and a “rebirth.” According to Mateo, it was only in college, after he began to live his life as a male, that he was able to find his way back to the church.
During high school, Mateo never felt comfortable enough in his surroundings to come out. His school was very different from York, having around 800 students in his graduating class and yet lacking the type of extra-curricular offerings that make York so special. His school didn’t have anything like a Gay-Straight Alliance or the kind of welcoming and accepting environment for a student like Mateo to feel at ease being an openly LGBT person. For that reason Mateo didn’t come out until after he went to college, during a time when he felt that society was getting to know more about the word “transgender” and what it actually means.
Since then, Mateo has become an advocate for social justice by working with organizations like Dignity USA and participating in the Owning Our Faith project (along with the venerable Mr. Roper) in order to help promote a more inclusive Catholic Church community. The students and faculty members who attended this GSA meeting took the opportunity to ask Mateo about his thoughts and experiences. Everyone seemed to find the discussion very enlightening and enjoyed the freedom to voice their opinions and questions in a safe space. In the end, Mateo’s story proved to be an encouraging testimony about being ones self, an important lesson for our students to feel confident in being the people they are inside on the outside as well.