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November 2011
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CityLink Seattle

Seattle Parks supports, reaches out to LGBTQ teens with programming and activities

Seattle Parks and Recreation, in recognition of the need for more LGBTQ-friendly (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) teen activities, over the past year has begun offering LGBTQ-specific teen programs. The kickoff event “Celebrating Our Diversity” social took place last December 11, 2010 at Yesler Community Center.

The event featured a live DJ, food, a do-it-yourself art table, and several youth performers, including a singer, a drag artist and a poet. This event was followed by an afternoon planning session at Garfield Teen Life Center in late January 2011, “Creating Our Destiny.” By offering these activities, Seattle Parks is one of a very few city parks and recreation agencies that offer activities specifically for LGBTQ teens, and hopes that as its efforts in this develop, it can provide a model that other Parks and Recreation departments can draw on.

Seattle Parks is the largest provider of teen activities and programs in the Puget Sound area, due in part due to its size: it is a city department with 30 community and special purpose centers and more than 50 staff dedicated to teen programs. Every quarter Parks offers dozens of teen activities from weekly Late Night events on Fridays and Saturdays to classes and sports activities to field trips and homework support.

“With the focus on youth suicides over the past year, and with recent media attention to the need for increased options for Queer youth, it seemed a natural and timely fit for us to be more active in reaching out to and supporting LGBTQ teens,” says Randy Wiger, the Parks Community Commons Program Coordinator who is involved in the efforts. “A conservative estimate using the 2010 census is that there could be 6,000 LGBTQ middle- and high-school age youth in King County, and we know teens frequently come to programs at our community centers whether or not they live in Seattle. Seattle Parks welcomes all teens to our programs, and especially wants to let LGBTQ young people know that you are welcome at our facilities.”

From these events and feedback from LGBTQ teens, Seattle Parks launched the “Born This Way Kafé: a weekly social for Queer Youth of Color + All Queer Youth + Friends + Allies” at Cal Anderson Park Shelterhouse on Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. As a pilot project, the Kafé features food and an open mic and theme nights (movie night, karoake, board games, etc.).

“Attendance has averaged between 5 and 15 youth each evening, and a total of 100 youth have visited the Kafé during our first 12 sessions,” Wiger adds.

Seattle Parks has also been reaching out to the many agencies and programs that provide services and activities for LGBTQ youth in the area, and looking for ways to support these efforts and collaborate in creating new activities.

“Seattle Parks has three broad goals in its engagement of LGBTQ teens: to let them know about the dozens of existing youth and teen programs we offer every quarter, to make our existing programs and teen centers more authentically welcoming to them and their families, and to create programming specific to their needs,” says Parks Youth Violence Prevention Program Manager Royal Alley-Barnes. “We were pleased to respond to the request by QYS organizers in 2010 and to support them meeting weekly at the Cal Anderson Park Shelterhouse following their Mutiny event in February last year until they received approval for their grant.”

There is a wide range of programs and activities the department can say yes to. “We understand it is a bit of a “chicken-and-egg” situation when it comes to engaging LGBTQ youth – how do you engage a particular community of youth when you haven’t previously made the effort to build those relationships?” Wiger says. “It’s slow going at first as you let youth know you want to support them, but if you make the effort then like any group of people, over time word gets around and everyone starts to check things out and trust gets built.”

In the past year, Parks established an ongoing partnership with GLSEN WA, the Washington State chapter of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, formed about two decades ago to support Gay/Straight Alliances in schools. GLSEN’s WA Student Organizing Committee is an important support group for student-led projects. “When Isaac (a middle school student) from GLSEN’s committee expressed interest in holding this event, Parks was able to offer the use of Yesler Community Center. He has done great work to locate a DJ and mobilize other students to help make the event happen. All he really needed from us was a location to hold it,” Wiger explained. “We are working to support several other GLTBQ youth-led projects in the coming year; we’ll share details as they develop.”

Get more information on Seattle Parks GLBTQ Teen Programs by contacting: Randy.Wiger@seattle.gov or by text or phone to 206-883-6110 or by visiting: www.Facebook.com/SeattleParksCOD.

Seattle Parks page for teen activities: www.seattle.gov/parks/teens.

Born This Way Kafé is a weekly social for Queer Youth of Color + All Queer Youth + Friends + Allies! It takes place Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Cal Anderson Park Shelterhouse, 1635 11th Ave. It’s for kids ages 13 – 19 and features free food, open mic, and these upcoming theme nights:
November 18 Movie night
November 25 No Kafé due to Thanksgiving holiday
December 2 Karaoke night
December 9 Spa night
December 16 Tinsel tizzy board game night
December 23 Movie night
December 30 Bingo night

Parks is sponsoring a GLBTQ Teen Social with live DJ for Queer Youth of Color + ALL Queer Youth + Friends + Allies! The Social, for teens ages 14 to 19, will take place from 8 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, December 10 at Yesler Community Center, 917 E Yesler Way (at Broadway). The event is free; teens will need a ticket to get in. Watch for ticket details at www.facebook.com/SeattleParksCOD or www.wagsa.org.