‘Decolonizing love’ so youth can succeed

2nd annual Pride Fest raises money for LGBTQ teens

Posted 7/17/19

In the midst of Port Townsend’s pride festival—rainbow flags waving, music blasting, free hugs being dealt out—two teens sat on a hay bale at Pope Marine Park painting each other’s faces.

Matthew Haggar painted stripes on James Genaw’s cheek, in white, light blue and baby pink: the colors of the transgender pride flag.

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‘Decolonizing love’ so youth can succeed

2nd annual Pride Fest raises money for LGBTQ teens

Posted

In the midst of Port Townsend’s pride festival—rainbow flags waving, music blasting, free hugs being dealt out—two teens sat on a hay bale at Pope Marine Park painting each other’s faces.

Matthew Haggar painted stripes on James Genaw’s cheek, in white, light blue and baby pink: the colors of the transgender pride flag.

Haggar and Genaw are both 14 years old, nervous but mostly excited to be going to Port Townsend High School next year. But despite their young age, they are well aware of the LGBTQ history that comes before them.

“I did a school project on Marsha P. Johnson, actually,” Genaw said. Johnson was a drag queen and gay liberation activist, instrumental in the Stonewall uprising.

“It’s important to remember that it was originally a riot,” Genaw said. “And it’s the main reason why Pride exists today.”

At Pride Fest on July 13, people from all over Jefferson County gathered to celebrate and remember the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The celebration of Pride looks a lot different than it did 50 years ago, when gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people in New York City fought against police raids for their right to exist in public.

“We don’t get beat up by the police anymore,” Haggar said. “Well, some of us don’t.”

At Pope Marine Park on Saturday, there was no riot. But there was a lot of love.

“We are all working for the same thing, to decolonize,” said Sabrina McQuillen Hill, a Makah activist. “Decolonize love. Ground yourself, protect yourself and don’t apologize for who you are.”

But beyond a celebration of love, the fest was also a fundraiser for a new teen center in Port Townsend, one that specifically supports LGBT youth.

Jefferson County Pride is hoping to open the center at the Community Center in Port Townsend, to provide a safe place for young people to hang out and be themselves.

Pride Fest was the first that Genaw and Haggar had heard about the new youth center, and they immediately lit up.

“We would absolutely want something like that to be here,” Genaw said, explaining how they used to hang out at the Boiler Room, a non-profit, volunteer-run coffee shop and center for youth that closed last August.

With the help of donations and support from the community, Jefferson County Pride is working toward opening a new place for teens to hang out and find community. Focusing on LGBT youth is important because they are more affected by homelessness and by mental illnesses such as depression.

In a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, the most frequently cited factor contributing to LGBT homelessness was family rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “Close to 10 percent of youth LGBTQ either contemplate or commit suicide,” said Dawn Darrington, a Jefferson County Pride board member. “We want to provide them a safe place they can depend on, where they are supported.”

Along with gathering donations, Jefferson County Pride is also working with OlyCAP on the project.

“We received a Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program grant that will roll out in October, focusing on ages 14 to 24 experiencing homelesseness with a focus on LGBT youth because they’re disproportionately affected by homelessness,” said Samantha Troxler, a housing coordinator at OlyCAP. They are planning on providing staff to assist at the teen center as well as other supportive services to connect LGBTQ youth with assistance for housing if they need it.

“There’s a lot we can learn, especially from our youth,” Troxler said. “They have a good vision and often don’t need someone to direct them, just support.”

Troxler said there will be a youth advisory board to help create the teen center, to better understand their needs and goals.

While “safe spaces” has become a loaded term, the point of the teen center is to literally provide safety, from being out on the street, from encountering bullying, or from dealing with depression or anxiety.

And though Pride Fest was all about love, many attendees knew that safety is still something LGBTQ people have to consider on a daily basis.

“We decided not to go to Seattle Pride this year,” said Nina Slagle, who held up a sign with the words, “Free Hugs” written on it with her partner, Ashlee Beach. “It feels dangerous to gather in that large of a group right now.”

Beach and Slagle were happy to show their love in Port Townsend, even though they know that the dangers that Marsha P. Johnson and other gay liberation activists faced at Stonewall 50 years ago still exist.

“We’re grateful to have this opportunity to show our love in public,” Beach said. “It all comes down to that. It’s good to show love.”

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Tom Camfield

"We don't get beat up by police any more." 'A sad commentary on American society, the fact that they' were ever beaten up in the first place. 'And reading between the lines, there still remains a measure of fear among the young LGBTs—an easy target of opportunity for brutish, knuckle-dragging sorts seeking someone to whom to feel superior. Our own Port Townsend still hasn't gotten back to the gentler times of my own youth. Pete, my best friend through middle school was gay. So was Donnie, who ran with our crowd in the early high school years. Also Barbara, on whom I had an unknowing crush for a time. In my children's years, my son's good friend Brian and my daughter's close friend John. No one gave it all much of a second thought. It didn't matter.

So are we moving ahead or backward in this Trump era? The main concerns of human existence should not include a competitive and combative attitude toward sexual preference.

Wednesday, July 17