*Note: This article was originally published on Pride Pocket prior to merging with MyUmbrella*
Extra-curricular activities provide essential developmental opportunities for youth: socially, creatively, and even health-wise. Community service organizations build character, theatre activities encourage teamwork and originality, and sports impart values of hard work and perseverance. One can see these are positive things every young person would hopefully encounter. When any extra-curricular activity leaves out a certain population, kids are missing out on these singular chances.
There is an overarching fear that making activities accessible or accommodating to certain participants harms the integrity of the activity or makes it an unequal measure. The truth is, failing to make accommodations is what makes an activity inequitable. We all have the power to rewrite the rules of games, clubs, and competitions since these are things we made in the first placeーso let’s involve inclusivity in the narrative!
Something that extra-curricular activities provide to kids beyond skills and resume-boosters is a safe space. A person who is a part of a minority community that does not see themself represented at home or in regular school classes needs an outlet and opportunities for expression, self-advocacy, and fun. A person doesn’t feel alone when they have a troupe or team to call home.
The sense of camaraderie extends even beyond the person’s group. With an affiliation to be proud of, they have a common ground with any other person who has an affiliation. It is easier to relate to othersーI know my own Thespian Troupe membership is the reason why I am so friendly with not only drama kids but any other member of another club. I will find something to ask about and be interested in.
There must be a call-to-action for more spaces that are safe, welcoming, and even designed for queer kids. Here’s the deal about the existing options:
- GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) – A GSA is a school club that calls on LGBTQ+ students and allies to stand together as models for acceptance in the educational community. These groups advocate for queer rights causes, perform community service, and are one of the best indicators of a school’s security for LGBTQ+ students
- LGBTQ+ Centers and Safehouses – These organizations, found in many cities and towns, can be second homes for queer people of all ages, but oftentimes there is special programming for queer youth. This especially goes for youth in unsafe situations, like living with a bigoted family, and if a queer kid is even at the risk of homelessness, there may be meals, counseling, or a place to sleep provided. On the more fun side of things, these centers are like GSAs outside of the school environment, with service and activism opportunities.
- Outdoor and adventure events – Believe it or not, there are many outdoorsy conventions (especially skiing events!) that calls on participation from LGBTQ+ families.
- PFLAGs (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays) – This is a network of local chapters of support systems for LGBTQ+ families that have been in operation since the 1970s!
- Oftentimes, the theatre department or Thespian Troupe of a school happens to be a welcoming space for LGBTQ+ students. This isn’t a catch-all scenario, but I can speak for all my queer student Thespian friends and for myself—a troupe can sometimes serve as a GSA.
It must be noted how many of these spaces serve as support groups or shelters for LGBTQ+ community members. While there are elements of fun within them, they are in operation primarily because there is a need for sanctuary. As time goes on and work gets done, there is hope for a world in which a lack of safety is no longer an impairment in the community.
As the case is for most causes, there are many people fighting to equip LGBTQ+ kids with the spaces they need and deserve. There is an abundance of websites and pages about GSAs doing their own thing; the pictures and blog posts serve as awesome reminders of what students are making happen. Organizations like GLSEN support GSAs and educate interested GSA sponsors on the steps to building one. Here’s another awesome story: The Dru Project is a Florida-based initiative created in the name of a young advocate and Pulse victim, Drew Leinonen. Inspired by Drew’s own passion for his GSA (that he created!), The Dru Project campaigns for GSAs in Florida schools.
The future is in the hands of the youth, so MyUmbrella encourages LGBTQ+ kids and teens to create queer-friendly groups of their own in their community! Here are some tips on how to get started:
- Be resourceful about your meeting space and resources – Your group has got to meet someplace! If meeting in school isn’t an option, sometimes there’s an available library or community space. When it comes to figuring out exactly what your group is going to do, the internet is a beautiful thing and the perfect place to find ideas!
- Identify what the group is for – Is it an advocacy group, social group, or a community service group? Could it be a combination of all three? Knowing exactly what your awesome group will accomplish and add to the world is essential to structure your programming.
- Brush up your leadership skills – Develop trust and open communication with your group members. Creating a safe space will enhance the experience and maximize the things you are able to do. Being a part of an LGBTQ+ group comes with the important issues of safety and understanding, so establish a sense of friendship. This models the world you are fighting for and will set an incredible example for others.
- Collaborate with others – As a leader of my Thespian Troupe, the most fulfilling projects have been the ones that we’ve collaborated on with other troupes, like the National Dance Honors Society and the African American Culture Club. There is no shortage of young advocates in the world to connect with: the operative word being connect. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve opened up my Troupe’s Instagram account and have messaged Troupes from other states just to get a conversation going. Your group may be small on a local level, but in relation to all the other groups, the connections you make can become massive!
Something that has remained pertinent in my own experience as a queer youth is how crucial it is for us to be able to resort to groups that are not inundated with the influence of risky substances, like alcohol or unsafe drugs. When a person becomes of age, there are gay and lesbian bars and clubs to visit. But are there as many spaces for queer minors to socialize (and how about those older queers who chose to be sober?)
It’s also worth noting that there are queer kids that are not comfortable with the over-sexualization of our culture (*raises hand*) and it can be damaging to our own development and perceptions about relationships and personal decisions. It can perpetuate the cycle of harmful addiction that disproportionately affects queer lives. Participation in groups with no ulterior motives – where there is nothing but wholesome and honest fun – is the mark of childhood, and the younger years of a queer kid have the potential of being rocky times.
Equality is something that must be fought for every age bracket, and in every sector of life, not just in the classroom, workplace, and home. The playing field, stage, and community center are places most of us frequent. Let’s work to make it a positive and inclusive experience for everyone.
I have a Thespian Troupe and GSA in my school, so I am very fortunate. And I have made my own choice that I will never engage in something that compromises my safety. But there are more vulnerable queers, who are not out or live in abusive situations which expose them to dangerous things that stand-in as an escape, shutting them out from all kinds of childhood fun. We need to provide infrastructure for young queers, so we may fully see their potential and give them the chance that any kid deserves.
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