2014 Queer & Allied Youth Summit!
Belongings: a Backwards Rambling Reflection on the 7th Annual Vermont Queer & Allied Youth Summit
Standing on the periphery of the dance floor, beneath the disco ball spinning stars into the rafters, under a golden arch spelling out MAS-QUEERADE (broken by the toss of a rainbow beach ball), I watch all kinds of kids twirling in gorgeous glittering dresses, bow ties, top hats. They dance in pairs and groups and conga lines, nymphs and fairies alighting betwixt and between, a lone unicorn in pink tights and cape at the center.
And what I see is hope. Hope for these youth to be themselves, to grow and continue to find ever-widening circles of acceptance. Here, at the site of some of their worst memories, that awkward emergence of the pecking order that is middle school, in the gym/cafeteria (the site of so many humiliations) these students reclaim the past, the future, their whole lives.
They will live whole lives and they will live them fully. They will live to tell their children about their prom, about the time when they were young, and anxious, and confused, and happy. Most importantly they will live their lives. They will not end them prematurely, because here they have found the strength to endure, even after this night, after they are separated.
From their various separate directions, a few youth trickle in at a time. Entering the library they immediately hush, cluster, lean in to bear witness to hidden talents: martial arts, poetry, ukulele, lipsync, guitar, piano. The audience is rapt. Appreciation is mutual.
We contain multitudes.
Multitudes flooding the streets, rainbow flags aloft, signs lifted high:
“Queer and Proud”
“gay is okay!”
Chanting in unison, a mighty roar:
“1-2-3-4 Open up the closet door!
2-4-6-8, Don’t assume your kids are straight!
9-10-11-12 Why not let them be themselves?”
Streaming through the city streets, these youth are emboldened, loud and proud. A rousing brass band in red jumpsuits backs them up as they pass sidewalk cafes and car horns. Nothing can drown out this noise.
“We’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous, don’t mess with us!”
The steps of city hall are lined with those eager to tell their stories, to be heard and acknowledged by the world. A web of safety, knitted by their peers, surrounds them. Applause and cheers breaks out after each individual voice, a groundswell of energy.
Anything seems possible.
What is possible in the company 120 queer youth and allies?
The afternoon ritual: a web of connection woven with rainbow yarn, wrapped from wrist to wrist. Voices echo that here they have found what they need: acceptance, love, a place to figure things out.
We figure things out together. After lunch priorities are set by the group: youth fundraising, training for educators at schools, theatre and poetry for queer youth.
So much promise in the air.
Air of excitement. The morning workshops: Playing with Gender; It Gets Better; Queertionary; Queer Family Values; Body Pride; Queer Poetry– a History of Revolutionary Words; Queerbook!Social Networking in the GLBTQ World; College: A New Start… A New Coming Out. Youth teaching each other, themselves. Awareness blossoms, knowledge multiplies, understanding deepens. This is only the beginning.
I begin the day in a room labeled “belongings.” The room fills with pillows, packs, prom dresses, pumps. The youth arrive nervous and excited, shy and terrified.
I welcome them home, to the place they belong.