Pride week in Juneau included a pub crawl, Pride prom and queer trivia. But it also featured something new this year: a party just for teens.
On the morning of the youth Pride party, Callum Marks didn’t know what to expect.
“I’m hoping that people show up. I think people will,” he said.
Besides just showing up at the Zach Gordon Youth Center, Marks hoped the middle and high school students at the party would find a safe space “to talk about the stuff that they don’t get to talk about in everyday life,” he said. “Because, you know, queer youth really are going through a time. High school is hard.”
Marks would know — the 18-year-old just graduated from Thunder Mountain High School last month.
As far as he and the other organizers can tell, the party was the first of its kind in Juneau.
Stephanie Luther is an education specialist at AWARE, a domestic violence shelter in Juneau. She got involved in the planning after asking friends and folks in the nonprofit world what programs were available for queer teens in Juneau.
“And the answer I got from everybody was, ‘There aren’t any, but there should be,'” she said. “And so I was like, ‘OK, well then let’s try.’”
Soon, Luther hopes to see more programming for queer youth, maybe even a club. But first: a party. Luther said it fills a gap for teens during Pride. Many of the big events take place at bars or have age restrictions. And while family-friendly events like kickball and picnics are great, teens might not necessarily want to hang out with little kids.
“And some teenagers don’t necessarily have families that they want to bring to those events or who would want to go to those events,” Luther said.
Organizer Tayler Shae said the party was planned in the spirit — and history — of Pride, which began as a protest against discrimination and has since evolved into something more like a festival.
“We want to encourage connection, raise awareness in the community that, like, this is a need, that there’s kids out there that need this connection, and then using it as a time to just, like, celebrate and be with each other and have a ton of fun,” Shae said.
That meant tie-dye, plenty of food and a drag performance were all in order. Even some live music, courtesy of 19-year-old Theo “FySH” Houck.
“As a queer person, as a trans non-binary person, I kind of like to imagine that anytime I like anyone, it’s queer. And that means that every time I write a love song, it’s a queer love song. And I write a lot of those. So I guess I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic,” Houck said.
Houck graduated last year from Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé and now attends college out of state. He was excited when he heard about the youth Pride event in his hometown.
But beyond Pride week or Pride month, Houck said adults can support the youth in their lives year-round by just being there for them.
“Be open and compassionate. Listen to what they have to say,” he said. “I think that one of the best things adults ever did for me was just allow me to figure things out. And really, like, believe me when I said I felt a certain way.”
About 50 teens turned up for the party. They had cake and entered a raffle for various, mostly-rainbow-colored prizes by filling out a survey about the kinds of services and activities they’d like to see for queer youth in Juneau.
As the party wound down, a handful of remaining teens and a few adults gathered around the fire pit out back. There’d been talk of starting a fire, but it was a warm night, and, with the summer solstice the next day, still plenty sunny around 8:30 p.m. All eyes were on Houck and his guitar as he played a few queer love songs — plus one breakup song, because, as Houck said: “Love isn’t always happy endings.”
The party, however, ended happily. Houck finished his set, and it was time for the Zach to close. Youth center manager Jorden Nigro apologized for wrapping things up and thanked everyone for being there. The remaining door prizes were handed out. Someone asked if they could take home an extra piece of rainbow cake.
Nigro said many people and organizations came together to make the party happen, because young people saw something missing.
“This gets at the core of the importance of listening to our kids,” she said, “and at working together to create a healthy and equitable community for all our kids.”
Nigro hopes the Zach Gordon Youth Center and community partners will soon offer more programming specifically for queer youth in Juneau.