STONEWALL YOUTH ART SHOW

The Olympian, July 13, 2001 (Olympia, WA)

Reaching OUT:
Stonewall Youth offers help to gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgendered and questioning youths

By John Huetter

OLYMPIA – The teen-age years aren’t easy, full of angst, hormones and life changes. Try adding the challenges of a sexual orientation that’s out of the mainstream, and they can seem downright daunting. However, Thurston, Mason, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties’ gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgendered and questioning youths have a resource to make life as a sexual minority teen-ager a little easier: Stonewall Youth, a nonprofit outreach and advocacy group for gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgendered and questioning people 21 and younger. Named after the 1969 Stonewall Riots, regarded as the origin of the gay-rights movement, Stonewall Youth was formed 10 years ago by an Evergreen State College student known only as “Zan.” “He put together a focus group because he thought it was missing in our community,” said Emily Stern. Stern, who is known in the community as Spider, serves as education and outreach coordinator of Stonewall Youth. In addition to community education programs, Stonewall Youth provides confidential, informal peer support meetings at a secret location. On July 7, she served as emcee and organizer of a Stonewall Youth art show and open microphone night at Olympia World News. “I tried to get this venue because it’s in a good location for different communities – not just queer,” she explained. “A point of interest is that it’s an interactive art show – a safer sex art show,” Stern said, explaining that attendees could obtain sexual safety items (such as condoms) from some of the artwork on display. In addition, the show had boxes of free condoms, lubes, dental dams, flavored latex gloves and educational pamphlets. “Thanks for the lube and the hope,” one audience member wrote on a message board near the safe sex equipment. Safer sex education is one of Stonewall Youth’s priorities. According to the Stonewall Youth Web site, half of all new HIV infections occur in people under 25, and two-thirds of HIV-positive people infected as teen-agers were gay or bisexual males. Community support groups such as Stonewall Youth, their Web site states, have been proven to make a difference. “I’ve learned a lot through Stonewall,” Liina Koivula said to the audience. “Safe sex is one of the things I’ve never thought about before.” Koivula and her friend Jen Galang have been working alongside Stern to organize the show. Both have been involved with Stonewall Youth for almost a year. “It’s like a family,” Galang said. “One of the cool things about this is we’ve worked on this together,” Stern said. “What ends up happening is you are all peer educators, essentially, and that’s invaluable.” About 50 people, the majority of them female, braved the sweltering dusk heat to attend the event. Artwork on display included sculpture, photography, painting, drawing and poetry. The open microphone produced a variety of jokes, songs, prose pieces, diary entries and poems. Topics ranged from childhood rape to uncertainty of one’s place in society. “This art show is really important for giving queer youth a chance to come and express themselves in a safe place,” said Haley Lowe, a Stonewall Youth board member. “It was interesting,” said Chris Thomas, 19, who also is known as Sphere. Thomas contributed artwork to the show. “I’ve never really submitted something like that. There’s not a lot of places where you can do that. It was fun.” Thomas, who also is a member of Stonewall Youth’s 10 board members, said he Joined the group after noticing “they were doing a lot more for the community, and that’s what I wanted to do … express my voice and help others express theirs.” Together with Stonewall Youth, Sphere has helped talk to school counselors to explain potential troubles queer youths may have with drugs and alcohol. He’s also been a part of AIDS education and anti-oppression workshops put on by the organization. Thomas said he plans to work further at improving Stonewall Youth’s social aspects and with transgender issues. The latter, he said, was “kind of a hot topic” that needed to be addressed and supported in Olympia. “It’s not as accepting here as it is in Seattle,” Sphere said. “Basically, it’s a really supportive environment and anyone can learn a lot and be among friends,” Sphere said of Stonewall Youth. “And if your passion is to reach out, that would be a good one to get involved with.”