It’s been said that seeing is believing. For journalists, seeing something first-hand means that we can better understand it and thus, better report on it.
For us at Between The Lines, that means traveling to the rallies and marches and pride festivals that grace our pages. It means seeing the artists whose CDs we review in concert. It means meeting the people who run our state’s LGBT movement, from the executive directors to the volunteers and yes, even the youth who will someday become those leaders.
Those youth were the recent focus of BTL as we traveled into the depths of Affirmations youth program to learn from the source (the kids who participate in it) what it’s really all about.
The verdict? Seeing the Affirmations youth in their element on a Friday night was a long way off from talking with staff members about the teens. It’s a little bit crazy, and makes anyone in the room feel like a kid again. The center fills with energy as it fills with youth, and though the music may get too loud from time to time, it’s safe to say that the lifeblood of Affirmations rests in those young adults.
They sing and dance. They chat excitedly about this crush or that movie. They play games and laugh until their stomachs hurt. They’re just kids.
But at the same time, they’re so much more. They – along with the vibrant, intelligent youth found at the Ruth Ellis Center and the Ozone House and the Neutral Zone – are the future of LGBT Michigan.
Sure, it’s a cliche, but it’s a phrase that became popular for a reason: because it’s true.
Sometimes, these kids are just kids. But they’re also passionate about LGBT causes, and many of them are already active in their communities in important ways. And what’s more, they’re dealing with some very adult issues that make many of them way older than their years: Acceptance. Discrimination. HIV. Pregnancy. Homelessness. Abuse. Bullying. They’re trying to find a place where they cannot only just be kids, but be 100-percent themselves.
Seeing LGBT youth programs in action, plus hearing from the teens themselves what these programs mean to them, makes a huge impact on those who experience it. With that in mind, our advice to readers this week is two-fold.
First, if you are an active, volunteering, donating member of Michigan’s LGBT community, go check out your local center or program for gay youth. Not only is it uplifting, but it gives a whole new perspective on what it means to be an LGBT youth today.
Second, to the organizations that run these programs: let the world see your kids. Youth programs are not a source of income – we all know that. They require a lot of money to run and are crucially important to our community. But a letter imploring for donations won’t show why we should support these programs as well as the youth themselves will. Let them put on performances and invite the community in to meet them. Let seeing become believing.