SEATTLE, WA -- In regards to those born after the early 90's, the queer community has raised its next revolutionary army ahead of schedule. These open, proud, young individuals don't fit into the existing establishment, they're rejecting the terminology, ideas, and identities of their elders – and most notably, they're doing it younger than ever before.
Queer Youth Space
These young people, for whom discovering and embracing their queerness prior to eighteen is the norm, have stumbled upon a catch 22 in the infrastructure formed by the gay community of the last forty years. Growing up, they have witnessed the growing acceptance of queer individuals and have, to a certain degree, been given the resources by the community to discover and be open about their own genders and sexualities, but the community's invitation to youth seams to stop there.
Most of this exclusion from the queer community is not intentional, in many situations it simply stems from the environment in which people gather. With so much of the community based in spaces with age limits, alcohol, or costly admission, many events and networking opportunities systematically exclude youths.
Not everyone is complacent to the issue. A portion of Seattle's young people and their allied adults are working hard on a grass roots project referred to as "Queer Youth Space" with a mission to make the queer community accessible to youth as well as adults.
The idea of Queer Youth Space began in 2009 when Kyle Rapinan, a board member and the founder of QYS, who at the time was eighteen, overheard a bunch of young people talking about how there really wasn't anywhere for them to go on Capitol Hill as a group where they could meet with other queer youth.
According to Rapinan, "People were saying ‘oh yeah, Capitol Hill, that's where all the young people hang out', but, adults where saying it, young people, including myself, where not…(we) were just like ‘what are you talking about? There is no place for young people on Capitol Hill.'"
Queer Youth Space is not a pioneering organization by way of aiming to help queer youth in Seattle - Lambert House, an organization which bills its self as a safe place for queer youth, has been around since the late 80's. While Rapinan acknowledges Lambert House's work with gender and sexual minority youth, he says that, according to the young people he works with, the organization, and others like it, have become less about community and more about service delivery.
In 2010, fifteen young people responded to the situation by organizing a three hour forum where they addressed topics like what it means to be queer, the problems they face on Capitol Hill and the difficulties of finding other queer youth in Washington. The answers were recorded, put into a report, and presented to the community.
After the report's publishing, Rapinan began meeting with a group of young people for three hours every Sunday to discuss what a queer youth space would be, and what would happen once they got it.
Their plan? Open a queer and youth positive center where young people could come to be with friends, flirt, access resources, and engage in a healthy way with the queer community.
Once everything was thought out, they began applying for grants that would fund their physical location, called the "Three Wings" center, the name referring to the project's planned three wings of operation aimed to help queer young people.
"The TW space will be characterized by three wings of operation: cultural activism, wellness services, and community-based research and education:
WING 1 | Cultural Activism Lab: responds to current youth demands and local culture by offering a queer venue replete with a café, arts and cultural gallery, performance/class space, and community organizing workrooms. The lab will serve as the face of TW and the primary function of its physical space where youth can utilize the open format to make media, socialize, and get engaged with local activism.
WING 2 | Wellness Collaborative: The wellness collaborative will address disparities in the quality of life of queer people, and other compounding factors, through holistic counseling, coaching and goal-attainment partnerships, peer mediation, health/legal information and referral, academic support, classes/groups aimed at personal healing and community wellness
WING 3 | Research & Education Institute: a think tank that builds leadership and community change through an intergenerational coalition of community researchers, advocates, and educators. The institute will produce creative media and web resources, undertake community-directed research partnerships, and provide technical assistance and consultation to schools and agencies." Source: Queeryouthspace.com
On June 16, 2010, QYS announced that, after submitting a sixty-seven page proposal to the city, they had received a Large Project Fund grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods for 99,982 dollars, their full requested amount.
Since receiving the neighborhood grant, QYS has seen a fair amount of criticism from queer leaders like Dan Savage for "sitting" on funding in a time of economic troubles for the city and nonprofits in general. However, according to those in charge of hunting for a physical space, this is less than true.
"We've gone forward with trying to rent eight spaces in the last two years, but nothings panned out." Rapinan said. We can't pick a location without a landlord agreeing to rent to us."
QYS has a list of requirements that complicate the search, but are necessary to adhere to city requirements and the group's vision.
"We want to have a space that's accessible to everyone, it's a city requirement, but we're extra committed to it." Rapinan explained, referring to the need to have an ADA compliant location that all youth, disabled or otherwise, can enjoy.
Another requirement that makes the search particularly hard is the group dedication to finding a space on Capitol Hill that is not surrounded by bars. While this may seem like a trivial requirement, it is explained by QYS's goal of moving queer culture away from alcohol.
In addition to keeping with their vision, Rapinan says that it's important for youth safety as what's commonly happening now is that "young people sneak into (queer) bars because they want to experience a feeling of community, (but) it leads to alcoholism, substance abuse, and (youth) hooking up with people they shouldn't be." As many queer youth already deal with more than their fair share these issues, Rapinan and his constituents feel that it would not be a healthy decision to have a location close to these elements.
Rapinan admits that there are few locations on Capitol Hill that can fulfill all of their needs whilst fitting inside the budget of a nonprofit. He explains that the obvious solution, simply looking outside of Capital Hill is not an option at this time, as a large amount of their funding is coming from a neighborhood grant, but that if the search continues unsuccessfully, "the city might allow differently."
Notably, he believes that once they do get a lease pinned down, they will be able to be open to the public within a few months.
On the subject of funding, Rapinan shared his resentment for the disparity in the funding and support of youth and adult interests by referencing the millions of dollars donated to ending DADT and instating marriage equality, while issues like homelessness among queer youth are all but ignored.
"There are a lot of adults who are like ‘come out come out', but when a kid comes out at fourteen and gets kicked out of the house, there are no shelters for queer youth," he explained, alluding to his own experience of being kicked out as a young queer teenager in Seattle.
For legal reasons, youth under eighteen are unable to formally serve on the board, but this has been mitigated by running QYS as a "constituent based organization" in which youth opinions play a large part in board decisions.
Beside from this allowing them to create an intrinsically youth positive organization, Rapinan says that being youth lead allows them to give queer youth leadership skills, along with the sense of community, vocational skills, and the academic help QYS plans to provide.
Looking down the road, Rapinan believes that, "If the community recognizes how awesome and innovative it is, it will stay around." Adding that the board has been actively working on sustainability plans and that the initiative has a solid long term financial outlook.
When asked if they had plans of some day expanding to other cities, he explained the project is solely meant to serve the youth of King's County and, at this time, there are no future plans of expansion. However, Rapinan said that they are open to helping and collaborating with other organizations that have similar projects and goals.
Article by Alex Sennello, a GoPride.com contributing youth journalist. ChicagoPride.com and the GoPride.com Network welcomes contributions by community journalists. Contact the editor for more information.