You never forget coming out to your best friend. You never forget telling your parents that it isn’t the boy next door that you have a crush on, knowing full well that they may not still love you after you say it.
After 17 years, it was the biggest relief to step out of the closet and let the light shine on all of my rainbowness. I didn’t have to go through the awkward changes and teasing and staring during my senior year, instead opting to finish high school online while starting my first year of college classes.
But away from my friends and my counselor as I went through one of the biggest changes of my life, I started to feel isolated and alone. Confused, yet again. I didn’t know how to find new friends who could help me feel like I wasn’t on my own completely, so I looked online, like any good teenager would do. Google search: “Kansas City youth LGBT.” Result: Passages.
Since my first Saturday at the youth group Passages, when I met new people, friendly people, youth that I felt I could relate to, I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt really alone. From Passages, I was directed to a whole new world of friends, drama, drag, self-love, and freedom. If it weren’t for Passages, I never would have started drag, never would have really felt OK with being my own person, and I wouldn’t be happily taken (sorry, ladies).
President Obama once said, “Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today.”
Today, Kansas City has a youth problem. Kansas City has Pride — there’s no doubt about that in my mind. I felt that pride and shared it with all of Kansas City back in June, when the events weren’t 21+ only. But what I have come to realize over the last few months is that Kansas City caters to the 21-and-over set. Time after time, some of my friends have gone out to do something and all I get told is, “Hurry up and be 21.”
Pretend for a minute that in your hand you have a list of every single LGBT-friendly place in Kansas City. If you are an adult, that’s probably a pretty awesome list of places to go, if you include bars and shows. But if you are under 21 and looking for a place to go, that list narrows.
It’s still a nice list of restaurants and some LGBT-friendly religious locations, maybe even a drag show here and there — definitely nothing to complain about.
Now imagine you are a youth, wanting to come out, but not sure of where to go, who to turn to, how to even start looking. That list of places to go may contain two or three places, if even that. But many youth will never have that list. Yes, high schools nowadays have GSAs, but earlier this year, the Missouri legislature tried to pass the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. If that bill had somehow passed, where would kids go? Who could they talk to? What about after high school, in those awkward, “you’re an adult now, but not really until you’re 21” years?
Kansas City has a youth problem. Kansas City doesn’t seem to know how to reach out to the youth. Isn’t that important? Aren’t they the future of our pride?
But here’s the good part: Whether you’re an LGBT youth, the parent of one, or one of those older people who have been around KC for a while, you can do something to help the next generation.
Here are some suggestions. If you’re a hard worker with not much time at hand, next time Missouri tries to pass the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, make sure they have a fight on their hands. Oktosaygay.org is a good place to start, and it takes only minutes to make a video. If you’re a youth, get involved: start a GSA, learn about activism at equalcenter.org, or come to Passages’ safe space for educational workshops on Wednesdays or game and dance nights on Saturdays. If you’re 21+, volunteer somewhere, donate to keep places like Passages open, or even talk to a school principal about starting a GSA.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant.”