Back in October, YPT initiated a partnership with another organization that serves our city’s youth: Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL).
Partnering with SMYAL has been a dream of mine for a couple years now. As a queer woman, I can’t help wondering about LGBT youth within the walls of every school I step into. In light of the recent tragic suicides within this national community, the need to hear these students’ voices is even more urgent.
SMYAL is located in a cozy blue row house on Capitol Hill. I noticed immediately that the youth who walked through SMYAL’s door felt at home. They readily prepared Hot Pockets in the kitchen, flopped on the couches, and gave friendly greetings to staff and youth alike. This is a community, built on mutual respect and trust.
My role is to work within SMYAL’s Youth Arts Program, ably lead by Stephanie Remick, Youth Leadership Coordinator. I will continue working with this group all year.
I told the youth when I first met them that at YPT we believe every person has a story worth telling. I want to give them the opportunity to tell theirs. With such a close-knit bunch, I knew that I would have to earn everyone’s trust.
During one workshop I led the youth in a story sharing exercise. We split into partnerships, and I instructed them to tell their partners the story of a time when they felt proud of themselves. My partner was clearly still trying to figure me out. She shared a proud moment, but without detail, just a bold declaration, leaving me to fill in the blanks.
When it came time to share I told the students that instead of sharing their own stories they would share what their partner told them. On top of that, they would share their partner’s story in the first person and attempt to imitate his/her gestures, tone of voice, etc.
I took the floor. I shifted my weight and assumed a standoffish pose. I did my best impersonation of my partner’s voice, and tried to match her boldness.
“I graduated high school. Until you graduate high school, you’re still a child.”
She cracked up. Her body language softened, and she congratulated me on my performance. It was a small moment, but I knew that I had expanded her perception of me. Perhaps I could be trusted.
Currently we’re working on the creation of a short performance to mark the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)’s “No Name-Calling Week.” I’m excited to hear the youth’s contributions to this much-discussed topic. It promises to be eye opening.