Sitting across the bay from famously gay-friendly San Francisco, Oakland can be a perilous home for homosexual youths, and one teenaged resident is fighting to bring those dangers to light.
Leilani Hopson, 18, will accept honors Saturday for her work in youth media and for her leadership in shaping public opinion around issues facing Oakland teens. Nonprofit social health group Girls Inc. will present the award to Hopson, one of six Bay Area women to be recognized for this year's Girls Who Dare Awards.
"Our theme this year is 'Women in Power'," Girls Inc. Executive Director Karen Kenney said. "In Leilani's case, we're honoring her power to influence public opinion. More importantly, the opinion of other youths."
Hopson is being recognized largely for her work with Youth Radio, an Oakland program through which she has pushed for discussion of several issues, including the dangers facing homosexual youths in urban environments such as Oakland.
"My friend who's gay, we went to a party together in West Oakland, and she got robbed and had a gun pointed against her head because she didn't want to talk to some guy, and she's gay," Hopson said.
"There are small numbers of people who just don't like gayness and will take violent actions because of your sexuality and how you express yourself. It's really dangerous for men, because of the macho thing out here," she said.
Hopson has also spent time raising conversations about public schools and the role of education in the lives of Oakland children.
"For me, I grew up in a particularly African-American community," Hopson said. "Our parents, a lot of people's parents, are not asking them about school every day, asking about college. That isn't talked about. My family — I have so many family members who are rappers, but only a small percentage will succeed at that. I want to bring up that you don't always have to go in that direction or what you see on TV or in the streets.
"Sometimes I think it's best for us who are still young to think about issues, because it's going to affect us when we get older. If we don't make the schools any better, when we have kids where are they going to go?"
Hopson is preparing to graduate from Far West High School in Oakland and said she plans to attend a junior college to save on tuition money before transferring to a four-year school. She will be DJing at the Oakland Museum this summer, as part of the "Cool Remixed" exhibit.
Girls Inc. will host the Girls Who Dare awards ceremony Saturday at Scott's Seafood Restaurant Pavilion in Jack London Square. For more information, visit www.girlsincislandcity.org or call 510-521-1743.