Saturday, May 19, marks the 17th Annual Youth Pride March and rally in Boston.
I will never forget my first youth pride event. It was May 18, 1996 and I was in seventh grade. A good friend of mine from church told me about it and I convinced my mom to take us up to the statehouse. It was the first time I met other out queer youth and saw them hanging out with each other, holding hands, sneaking away to make out, while also cheering for the speakers on the statehouse steps. It was my inspiration to do queer organizing in my school, and remains a pivotal space for young queers today. My role as a young person was to lead in those spaces; the new lesson for me now is to think about what it means to be an authentic adult ally.
According to The History Project, Massachusetts queer student organizing began to be recognized in 1969, first with the Boston University Homophile Committee. Organizing expanded beyond BU and these combined efforts led to the Student Homophile League that worked to connect statewide student homophile organizing. It’s exciting to think of the parallel role LGBT youth organizations, AGLYs (Alliances for Gay and Lesbian Youth), play today.
Knowing our history and the role young people have played in the organizing of the LGBTQ movement gives us greater power as a movement. The responsibility that adult allies then have is to recognize what our responsibilities are. I know how fun it is to talk with young people about the days when I was a teenager and the knowledge I gained over the past decade. For those of you who are older than me, I imagine it’s even more fun and you have even better stories to tell. Yet, that’s not always what young people are looking for from us. We have the great opportunity to listen to the leadership of young people and learn what it means for organizing efforts to be youth-led, adult-supported.
If you are thinking, as Youth Pride is coming up, about what you can do, the first piece is to show up. I know that many of us have felt that sinking stomach feeling when we hear about bullying in school or young people who have been forced into homelessness. I know that I can feel so powerless in those moments. On May 19, though, you can travel across the state, or even in from another state, to Boston to cheer on and support young people who will be marching in the streets. There is also a consistent need for chaperones at the BAGLY prom. You can learn more about chaperone needs at www.bagly.org.
Youth programming also needs funding support. So many of us are bombarded with funding requests from the HRC, GLAAD and other adult-focused LGBTQ organizations, but young folks need to be included. Do you know about OUT NOW in Springfield, Mass.? You might see their bumper stickers around that read, “Don’t Hate: Liberate!” They bring a large multi-issue focus to LGBTQ liberation, they provide incredible support to young people, and they constantly show up, provide leadership development opportunities, while transforming the lives of young people. Host a fundraiser with your friends; every bit helps.
If you are in Providence, have you ever gone to events put on by the Providence Youth Student Movement? They do organizing work with Southeast Asian youth, including a program, seaQuel, described as a project that, “empowers LGBTQ and heterosexual Southeast Asian youth allies with leadership development and mentorship so that they can organize community events that bring diverse communities together, foster coalition building, and address the intersections of oppressions.”
Allies have a role of support here too! Listening to young queers of color will shape a mass movement in a way quite different from one directed by middle-class white adults. It is not about feeling shame or guilt about being a middle-class white adult, but to take time to listen to the leadership of others and strive to be allies knowing that we’ll fail sometimes, but we just need to get back up and keep trying. Our greatest potential for growth and greater change in our communities is when we work outside of our comfort zones. So, show up, listen, and act. This May is a great time to reignite your own commitment to LGBTQ young people. Start with showing up at Youth Pride if you haven’t before. It was 1999 when my mom joined me at the podium to speak our truth as a family. She showed what it meant to be an adult ally. We can all follow in her footsteps, supporting the leadership of young people.
*Rev. Jason Lydon is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Boston. He is a long time anti-prison organizer and founder of Black & Pink, an LGBTQ-focused effort working toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex. Jason is also an avid lover of famous people and blockbuster action flicks. You can reach Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org.