Tyrone Creech Jr., the new youth leadership organizer at GSAFE, has one central message for students.
“I want them to understand that they are accepted. And they have every right to get the same education as everyone else — no matter how someone makes them feel or if they don’t feel supported by their school — they are entitled to that education,” Creech told Madison365.
Creech started his new position at GSAFE on June 1, the first day of Pride Month. On that day, he got to witness Gov. Tony Evers raising the Pride Flag at the Wisconsin State Capitol surrounded by students and colleagues.
In his role, he will be traveling to schools around the state to empower LGBTQIA+ youth, in addition to developing curriculum and workshops for students surrounding activists and social justice.
“It is something I am passionate about and something I love doing. So finally I get to do a passionate job — and what more could there be?”
He grew up in Madison and graduated from East High School in 2007. Although he just started this new position, he has been with GSAFE as a student mentor and stable at the annual Leadership Training Institute (LTI) conference for four years. LTI is a summer camp for high school students who are organizing at the intersection of LGBTQ+ and racial justice. During LTI, attendees collaborate with LGBTQ+ peer and adult activists to share and refine skills in mobilizing for change in their schools and communities, according to GSAFE’s website.
He said he remembered being asked to mentor during the conference four years ago, and at the time he didn’t expect it to be so meaningful.
“When I was asked to do it I was like, ‘I guess, whatever. I was thinking how much do I get paid for doing this, can I bring my phone?” he said with a laugh.
“(My mentor) told me on the last day that I was going to break into tears. And I was like — I’m a 6’3’’ giant male — I was like I’m not going to break into tears, these kids aren’t going to look at any tears. But I tell you … I’ve never cried so hard.
“It is all about what you’ve done with them over these four or five days, and then they take what we’ve taught them and go back to high school and become more powerful activists,” he added.
Now Creech will be leading that conference.
He said working with students in Madison and around the state is what motivates him each day. He added that he hopes to be a leader for students and to help them find their voice, and know they are heard.
One of his most memorable moments came from showing another Black gay man that he is not alone.
“In the Black community, being Black and gay is taboo. It is very hush-hush. And so for (my mentoree) to see me and see how I traveled the world — I’ve lived in Australia, and been in London and Dublin and I’ve been in their gay communities. So for (my mentoree) to see me being such an openly, positive, strong, Black male and being very confident and positive in myself, I was able to project that and to show him that he is not alone and there are people who understand,” Creech said.
After Creech graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in education, he traveled the world to Australia, London and around the country. He was a successful soccer player, playing in high school and college, he said. He also is a member of Madison Minotaurs, the local gay rugby team and attended the Bingham Cup, which is the biennial world championship of gay and inclusive rugby.
He said he would like to someday mentor LGBTQIA+ high school athletes. He came out when he was 21 and wished he would have had more time and acceptance to figure out his sexuality sooner.
“If I would have had a mentor, somebody that could make me feel validated and OK, I think I would have been a proud out athlete in my school. It is important to allow kids to express that they can be full, beautiful athletes, student-athletes, gay athletes. And just allowing them to be their full authentic selves,” he said.