Juneau youth center’s Pride Party creates a needed space for LGBTQ+ youth

Youth at Zach Gordon Youth Center’s Pride Party earlier this month. (Photo by Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO)

It’s been a tough couple of years for the LGBTQ+ youth that come by Juneau’s Zach Gordon Youth Center.

“We have seen just significant struggles with mental health, like kids that are struggling to stay in school, they’re struggling to maintain relationships and take care of themselves,” said Ty Shae, a youth program coordinator for the Zach. “And I think kids are just living through some really dark stuff… And they’re really doing their best, but like, it’s rough out there.”

The youth center is place where young people in Juneau can drop in and socialize or play games. It also offers support services, like help finding jobs and housing. And with activities like chess club and karaoke night, it’s a special space for Juneau’s queer kids.

This was the third year that the center has hosted an in-person Youth Pride Party. It’s one of the events that kicks off Pride Month in Juneau. About 65 kids showed up on June 4 with pride flags painted across their faces or draped over their shoulders. There were games and dancing through the rainbow balloon arch at the front door.

But the event came during a slew of anti-LGBTQ legislation nationwide, including a bill in Alaska that would have banned trans girls from playing on girls sports teams had it passed.

“I think it is important to acknowledge that the general messaging in the world right now is not super inclusive to trans youth, in particular,” Shae said. “And even if it doesn’t directly impact these kids, like even if the trans kids we’re seeing are not in sports or whatever, that is still super harsh messaging to hear.”

Zach Gordon Youth Center Program Coordinator Ty Shae. (Photo by Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO)

Lee Orozco came to the party with a nonbinary heart sticker on their face.

“We need a lot more safe spaces. For queer people in Juneau, especially children,” Orozco said. “Because year-round, most of the queer spaces are for adults, because they’re like drag shows at the bars, which is a little frustrating.”

Grayson Ashley agreed that the lack of LGBTQ+ events for young people feels limiting.

“I think that kids aren’t able to express themselves as often as most adults are,” they said.

It makes events like these all the more impactful by showing LGBTQ youth in Juneau that there is room for them, they said.

The rest of this month has seven more Pride events, and some are all ages, but the Zach Gordon Center’s party is the only event that caters to youth alone.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Lee Orozco’s last name.

Yvonne Krumrey

Local News Reporter, KTOO

Juneau is built on hidden and assumed layers of power and access, influencing how we interact with identity, with the law and with each other. I bring you stories of the gaps in access to power, and those who are working to close those gaps.

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