Youth Spotlight: Mel McCalley is a panelist and positive change maker
Editor’s note: The pronouns in this story are gender-neutral.
Mel McCalley recently spoke as a panelist during two of our Eat Chat Parent family education events. These opportunities offered a chance for McCalley to tell their story of overcoming adversity, figuring out their identity and developing personal values such as living authentically and being unapologetic. Adolescence can be an awkward phase of physical and emotional development for many. The past few years have enabled McCalley to build their support system and self-esteem.
“The way I had been expressing myself didn’t feel like myself,” McCalley explains. McCalley feels more confident dressing and expressing themselves in a manner that is comfortable. Plus, as Mel points, out, some clothing is simply more comfortable and functional.
The first time I met McCalley they were speaking up about LGBTQ+ rights at a time when the community started convening to increase support for the population. For clarification’s sake, this acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and others. Data indicate that those identifying as LGBTQ+ are at higher risk for substance use, depression and suicide. Locally, we recognize that young people identifying as LGB are twice as likely to exhibit signs of depression and six times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual peers, according to the 2017 Eagle County Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.
McCalley identifies as transgender and queer, and admits, “I know what it’s like to not see myself represented. I want to represent others like me so I can create positive change.” In addition to using leadership skills to help improve the lives of LGBTQ+ youth in the community and let peers know they are not alone, Mel is motivated to educate so that adults can better understand the younger generation.
McCalley is an exceptional student who skipped a grade and will soon graduate from Vail Mountain School, with an impressive roster of hobbies and extracurriculars to fill their days. Social justice and activism are major focal areas of McCalley’s. Through school, McCalley participates in both the Forward Alliance, similar to a Gay-Straight Alliance, and the Social Activism Club. McCalley helped organize the VMS school walkout last spring because gun control is something they feel strongly about. Serving on the planning committee for the Mountain West Diversity Conference at Eagle Valley High School in late 2018 was another recent highlight. Another was playing multiple roles in the VMS winter theater production of “The Laramie Project,” a documentary-style performance recapping the brutal murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepherd.
Another community engagement pursuit in McCalley’s life includes participating in Eagle River Youth Coalition’s Youth Leaders Council.
“YLC helps young people feel recognized in the community. I enjoy hearing different perspectives and pushing for representation and inclusion in Eagle County,” McCalley said.
For McCalley, it’s a way to get together with different types of students from across the valley to work as a united force toward becoming stronger leaders and voices for the future. As Youth Leaders Council coordinator Gerry Lopez explains, “Mel has inspired me, and other YLC members, to just be ourselves and pursue what makes us genuinely happy. Mel also has taught me to not be afraid to try new things, because they might end up being a huge part of who we really are.”
Passionate about building an inclusive community, McCalley believes that opinions from all sides should be heard regardless of how controversial they are. This approach can help create a diverse and welcoming environment because all people feel welcome and included. Doesn’t this sound like a beautiful world to you?
Michelle Stecher is the executive director at the Eagle River Youth Coalition.
Prinzhorn launched Grannies in the Bush 17 years ago. It’s now EduTek, a Colorado-based nonprofit.