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The need for Queer youth space in Seattle
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The need for Queer youth space in Seattle

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Kyle Rapinan, 19, would like to ask the Seattle Gay community a question: "What is being provided for Queer youth, and what is not being provided?"

Rapinan, a University of Washington student, says he knows what Seattle Queer youth need: more space. Not just any space, but Queer space - a space for LGBT youth that is organized by Queer young people and their allies.

During the last half of 2009, Rapinan and other like-minded youth got together to discuss issues their age demographic face. After volleying ideas, they came to the conclusion that many of them feel that if you are under 21 years old, you are on the outside of the community looking in.

"Currently, if you are under 21, you cannot enter many Queer spaces in Seattle, and those that are open have a host of systemic problems," Rapinan told SGN. "There is a disengagement occurring with Queer youth and the established LGBT presence in Seattle. Queer Youth Space (QYS) believe that the lack of connectedness of Queer youth is due in large part to the lack of dedicated space and also the widespread marginalization of young people in LGBT spaces due to ageism and capitalism."

Rapinan and his cohorts at QYS have put together a coalition of youth and adult community organizers, including past and present Pride Foundation scholars, to help create space for Queer youth in Seattle that is sustainable, productive, organic, progressive, educated, safe and dynamic.

Rapinan says that he is well aware of the current misunderstanding that QYS is trying to be separatist or point fingers at existing organizations. He says that misunderstanding is ill-founded, because he has had plenty of contact with community organizations; in fact, he has been the beneficiary of their services in the past. When he came out as Gay, his family disowned him. Lambert House helped him out and he excelled in school and received a scholarship from Pride Foundation.

"This is not an 'us' versus 'them' situation," he told SGN. "We are saying we want to be a part of the community, but have little chances to do so. For one reason or another, when you start talking about Queer space dedicated to youth, then people get defensive."

He said QYS acknowledges the meaningful role of existing LGBT spaces, but says that there is a cultural shift among young people which seeks to involve all people who want to eliminate heterosexism. The main problem, Rapinan says, is that the existing organizations rarely have any youth on their board of directors. "How can you effectively talk about youth projects or organize LGBT youth events without consulting them and allowing them to be a part of the process?" Rapinan asks.

Rapinan points out that many fundraisers, benefits, and other LGBT community events have ticket prices that range from $60-$200. He said he understands the need to raise money, as he is an activist as well, but asks, "Why not have a youth table or a sliding scale for ticket prices?" The answer, he says, is because no one has challenged these organizations or presented them with the idea. That is where QYS comes in.

The biggest misconception about QYS, according to Rapinan, is that people think they are looking for a dedicated space. "We are not looking for any one location in particular," he explained to SGN. "We are looking for a network of places that set aside time for Queer youth to feel welcome - space that does not try to 'fix' or 'help' young people, but instead views young people as the primary actors in our own personal and community growth."

QYS officials say their only requirement is that potential Queer youth space must be youth-driven. The idea has caught on, and QYS has over 1,000 supporters of the cause on Facebook, and the website www.queeryouthspace.com receives heavy traffic.

QYS has sent out an invitation to Queer youth to join them on February 20 at Seattle Central Community College, Room BE-1110, from 3-6 p.m. to figure out what Queer youth in Seattle want. The event, entitled "Mutiny," is designed for youth to take control of the conversation and ask themselves about services that are being provided. During Mutiny, Rapinan and QYS hope to get information for a blueprint that will allow them to create spaces which Queer youth can galvanize around and feel safe as they organize.

"Adults should not feel threatened or angry about these conversations," Rapinan told SGN. "This is positive dialogue in which we are finding out how to become more involved with the LGBT community. Organizations that currently work with youth should understand that. We are their constituents, we are the people they are supposed to be serving."

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