Mic Drop

Jamie Gussman ’22 co-founded a new non-profit, Voices Heard SF, to act as a liaison between those who’ve been muted and those who can help.

Mic Drop
Image courtesy iStock

After feeling voiceless—sometimes literally muted—during the most challenging times in their lives, friends Jamie Gussman ’22 and Lauren Arnold want to ensure everyone knows where and how to access the microphone through their new nonprofit, Voices Heard SF.

The nonprofit, born from their friendship, is an effort to help LGBTQ+ members, single parents, survivors of abuse, and “honestly, anyone” in the Bay Area, Lauren said. As they build Voices Heard from the ground up, Jamie and Lauren want it to become the ultimate one-stop shop, connecting people who don’t know where to find help to the right organizations.

The pair met while performing in a 2019 run of Heathers: The Musical for a theater company in Pacifica, Calif. During the show’s opening week, Lauren found out she was pregnant. While Lauren navigated her sexuality, mental health, and confusing, restrictive custody laws, Jamie was by her side every step of the way. And when Jamie started questioning their gender identity, Lauren returned the favor.

During one particularly contentious court custody hearing over Zoom, Lauren says the judge muted her and told her that she couldn’t affect change. Inspired to prove her wrong, Lauren remembers thinking, “You’re not gonna listen to me? OK, you’re going to listen to us.”

In early July 2021, a 12-hour interactive live-stream event marked the official launch of the nonprofit, during which Lauren and Jamie raised more than $2,000. “We want to be created by the people, for the people, from the beginning. We have a goal, and we know how to get there, but first, we want to ask the people in our communities, ‘What do you want to see from us?’” Lauren says.

Next on the docket was establishing connections and dialogues with other local nonprofits and foundations like La Casa de Las Madres, which responds to domestic violence calls in San Francisco, and RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), so Voices Heard could become a liaison for those looking for help. “And it’s not like we hand [people looking for help] a phone number, smack them on the tushie, and send them on their way,” Lauren says. “We’re with them on this process. We stay on the phone.”

Phase three is the ‘coming-to-fruition phase,’ Jamie says; making Voices Heard a liaison between those who need help and those who offer it. “We want Voices Heard to be a place where everything you need is just there,” they say. “I want a building where people can exist together, where people can learn from each other, be it from personal experiences or from speaker events.”

Other long-term goals include building support groups, recruiting volunteers, developing an app, and working to destigmatize family therapy. The pair look forward to continuing their podcast, where they discuss their friendship and what being part of the LGBTQ+ community means to them.

Ultimately, Jamie and Lauren want Voices Heard to be the safe, 24/7 on-call community they never had, and are still looking for. “I’m actively searching for a community while creating it,” Jamie says. “We noticed that there’s no place to go for something like this, so why not just do it?”

One day, Voices Heard will be a household name, Jamie says. “I know we’ll get there.”

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