On my way into work this morning, I listened to a call-in advice show on which a sixteen-year old girl from my home state asked for advice about a problem with her mom. The girl had recently come out as gay, and her mother was threatening to stop paying for her private school, had forbidden her from coming out to anyone else, and had told her that her sexuality was “unnatural”. The host of the show assured the caller that her mother would come to terms with the news and become more supportive, and even knowing how likely that is, the call still broke my heart.
The difficulties that openly gay youth face today have received much national attention over the last year or so, due in part to the seeming epidemic of suicides among gay teenagers in recent years. While a number of amazing projects have dealt with the issue nationally, it is always refreshing to see local organizations responding as well. The Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) is a DC nonprofit that has served lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth since long before it was trendy.
YPT was fortunate enough to work with SMYAL’s Youth Arts Ensemble this year to create an original play. I had the honor of seeing this play when the students performed it at the Columbia Heights Community Center on June 23, 2011.
While SMYAL primarily deals with gay/gender rights, the students delved into a number of relevant issues. Throughout a series of short vignettes, they examined matters of racial profiling, drug abuse and mental health, as well as homophobia, gay marriage and gender identity. It was inspiring to see these talented students engaging in scenes that explored topics they clearly cared about wholly and passionately. Even more wonderful was seeing the support they received from the community through both the amazing staff at SMYAL and the audience that had come to encourage them. It is such a relief to know that any gay students in DC facing a reaction at home similar to the teenage girl I heard this morning have a place to go that not only accepts them, but also encourages them to share their stories with the world.
It is obvious that the fight for equality in America is far from over, but if the next generation is anything like the students I saw perform with SMYAL last month, I’d say we have a pretty impressive group leading the charge.
Be sure to check out another brave student performance when the students of YPT’s Young Playwrights’ Workshop present Out of the Shadow, their original play about bullying, at the Capital Fringe Festival next week.