Sunday, July 23, 2006

Left To My Own Devices - Part Two

In 1988, a small group of disenfranchised, but glamourously resourceful teenagers, myself included, formed a Gay youth group – Pittsburgh’s Growing Alternative Youth. Our mission was to welcome, educate and empower the next generation of Steel City queers, as well as to greatly expand our social circle and dating possibilities. We took up a campaign of guerilla marketing – infiltrating high school libraries and stuffing any medical or psychology book with an index reference to “homosexuality” with flyers for the group. We networked at Gay cruising spots and outside Gay bars. We posted flyers in the womyn’s bookstore and the universities’ student unions. We grew from meetings of 4 or 5 to a weekly attendance of over 60 in just a few months.

A local Gay minister and activist, Lou, helped us get organized and encouraged us to take on the world. We had weekly speakers, presenting a range of topics. Herman, a charming, elderly African-American gentleman came to tell us what Gay life was like for him in the 1940s. Kathy, a licensed counselor, came to speak to us about ways to improve self-esteem, and Don, in a 2-part workshop, “Eroticizing Safer Sex,” taught us how to protect ourselves in a newly dangerous world. We watched “Torch Song Trilogy” and “Desert Hearts” and planned monthly under 21 parties at local Gay bars.

In 1990, Chris, my roommate, and a member of the youth group with a long history of depression and self-esteem issues, ended his own life. I think many of us felt that we had failed him – failed to be a good enough family when his family wanted nothing to do with him. We failed to take him seriously when he joked about suicide and when he made theatrical attempts that we thought were “just for attention.” Jason and I were the leaders of the group, and after Chris’ death we lost interest, and the group fell apart (some time after it was reincarnated into a less educational, more social entity).

But, I look back now, and I don’t see failure anymore. I often meet Gay people in their 30s and 40s who are struggling with issues that we were able to address in our teens. Through Growing Alternative Youth and with Lou’s help, we learned more about Gay history and culture before we could legally enter a Gay bar, than many middle-aged Queers know. We had opportunities to grow at a time when, unfortunately, many Gay people are stifled by internalized homophobia.

I realize now that we didn’t fail Chris. We more likely succeeded in keeping a lot of other Gay kids from following in his footsteps.


Valerie - Riding Solo said...

You are probably right about your friend Cris. He may have held on longer because you were there and you may have kept others from following his example.

It's so hard to be different in anyway in high school and for your group it was really a problem. That you attempted to solve it at all says a lot about the group and that you succeeded for any lenght of time shows you were committed.

Teens typically lose interest in anything after about a month unless it really is important to them.

I'd say you did a fine job of trying to help yourselves and others.

Cyrus said...

Thanks Val. I sometimes think about volunteering some time to a local gay youth group. I don't know how much it has changed, but it seemed like gay kids of my day got no support from straight or gay grownups. Now, I think that gay adults avoided offering help to gay teens because they couldn't face the memories of their own painful teen years.

Lauren J said...

You should be so proud of what you accomplished at a time when kids are in such a state of flux. High School is a challenging time for everyone, and it sounds like you were there, setting an example and opening doors for others.

No one can make the decisions for anyone else. I suspect that your group helped many.