Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Big Gay Reunion!

Tomorrow, I'm going home. It's really home, in more ways than one. I'm going to Pittsburgh for my 20 year reunion. It's not my high school reunion, which I wouldn't even consider attending. It's a weekend reunion of my gay youth group. I'm going home to walk down memory lane with the people who saved my life, and helped me to define myself. I can't wait!

To celebrate our 20 year reunion, I've reposted a little story that appeared here at the Lair a couple of years ago....

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.

1 comment:

Lauren J said...

I hope the reunion is fabulous! Kudos to you for all your great work and more importantly, have fun!