This summer, we put together a program that would allow LGBTQ youth to have a place to get together, make new friends, and be themselves. This weekly program included activities, games, and resources to help youth express themselves and share their interests with other members of the community.
On paper, this program was an amazing opportunity to create a space for LGBTQ youth community, but we faced a challenge – participation. There are only a few programs visibly inclusive to LGBTQ folks in our area, especially youth. We had to show youth that this was a safe and affirming place that would always embrace them and provide them space to share their experiences.
Our program started out with only a handful of youth attending, but with the help of our two amazing facilitators, Amira Pankey and Julia Singley, our program grew into something bigger! “There aren’t many spaces where Queer and Trans youth can take off the armor that they constantly have to put on to face the world, and just be themselves and be a youth,” said Pankey.
Often times, LGBTQ youth are uncomfortable, and even afraid, to step out of their comfort zone in public spaces like school and work. Singley expressed that youth experience trauma, violence, and bullying at school, in public spaces, in social spaces, on athletic teams, and even at home. We wanted this program to be a place where LGBTQ could be at ease knowing they were among friends and allies.
Within a few weeks, the program got more momentum! The youth that attended told their friends and eventually more of them found this space. Pankey added, “Existing with Queer and Trans identities is hardly easy. I wanted to work with LGBTQ youth to offer them the sight and affirmation they may not receive in other parts of their life.”
School is back in session, and we’re happy to announce that the LGBTQ program will continue to run throughout the school year! Liza Cobbs, a youth facilitator with PFLAG, is on board and with her help, we’ll continue to provide this space. “I was so excited to hear that this type of program was going to be offered at the Community Center that I jumped at the chance to become involved. I think this could become a model for programs in other communities and I am thrilled to be a part of it,” said Cobbs. The LGBTQ youth program meets every Friday afternoon starting at 6:30pm in the Teen Center.
“It is not just important to have resources available for LGBTQ youth, but we must also create safe spaces, and as a community, demonstrate our desire to include all people,” added Cobbs.
There is a social stigma, not just in our community, but all over regarding LGBTQ rights. While we’ve had a number of great successes towards visibility, such as Danica Roem’s election in fall of 2017, there is still progress to be made. Singley said, “Queer and Trans youth deserve to feel seen and loved. They deserve spaces where they don’t have to fight for the right to exist. Many of the youth who participated in our summer program are fighting for the right to be themselves all the time.”
We hope that this program continues to be a space for LGBTQ to feel free.
Eliut Morales is the Writer/Content Specialist for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703-335-8872 or via email at email@example.com.