by Chris Lacefield
The first and foremost goal of the Teen Pride program is to create a safe place for the LGBTQ+ teens and their allies in our community.
Safe spaces allow young people a place where they can go without facing the fear of persecution that may exist in more institutionalized settings like their schools or churches. The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN, 2012) reports that schools remain a hostile environment for LGBT students. Their national survey found that 84.9% of the students heard the word “gay” used disparagingly; 61.4% heard negative comments regarding gender expression; and 71.3% reporting hearing LGBT-focused pejoratives like “fag” and “dyke.” More than half of the respondents (56.9%) reported hearing homonegative comments from teachers, staff, and administrators.
In light of those harrowing statistics, it is clear that our LGBTQ+ teens need a safe place to express themselves, to simply be who they are. The Teen Pride meetings are supportive, fun, teen-specific gatherings that also focus on leadership training. This training aids in the development of teen-driven civic projects that encourage positive change and healthy environments. Our program also assists teens and schools establish gay-straight alliances on their own campuses.
The idea is that we want to provide supportive, safe places for teens to explore their identities, discover topics about which they feel passionate, and empower them to make changes in their communities and lives that reflect that passion. These meetings provide social support, but they also help develop the next generation of leaders in our community.