Earlier this week, I represented Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ Community Center (the GLCC) at an event for teen girls in a program called GirlGov . My assigned task was to describe advocacy opportunities with the GLCC. But as so often is the case, my actual reason for being there was something entirely different.
The set-up was like speed dating with the girls moving from table to table. I had some flyers, cards and was ready to answer questions about our work. What I didn’t expect was that every single girl who sat at my table had the same question – they wanted to know if our youth programs would be open to their gay/lesbian/bi/queer friends? Each girl had someone LGBTQ in their life around their own age. Each girl told me that while school wasn’t a bullying hellhole, their friends were often lonely because they didn’t know other queer kids their age. Each girl!
Out went my plans to talk about our advocacy work and how we interact with other LGBTQ groups. Instead, I carefully explained how our youth programs worked and asked some gently probing questions to determine if the girls would be willing to come to Drop-In Night with their friends (they unanimously agreed.) We talked about the layout of the space, the types of activities available, the geographic region we serve and more.
One girl said to me that her school doesn’t tolerate bullying and it has a GSA, but there aren’t many gay kids (her term) so her friend is “safe, but lonely.”
That’s when it hit me – I wasn’t there to talk about advocacy, I was there as a resource for the girls to advocate to on behalf of their friends. They were advocating by responding to my very casual mention of our work with LGBTQ youth during the introductions. And if these girls could do that, what about other youth throughout the region?
How many schools and programs and groups and activities exist where there might be one LGBTQ identified youth? What if we can reach those young people and encourage them to encourage their friends to check out our Youth Programs? And to take it one step further and come with them to the GLCC for their first trip so they aren’t by themselves – we all know how that feels right?
So here’s a quick overview of how the youth programs work
Drop-In is held every Friday evening from 7-10 PM, targeting LGBTQ youth and allies ages 13-17 (or 18 and still in school.) There is some structured activities, but also time and flexibility to just hang out with other youth in a safe space. There is adult supervision (most of these volunteers are program alumni.) The Center is closed to other programming during this time. Drop-In will be celebrating its 20 year anniversary in 2015. There are no geographic restrictions on who can attend this program. We encourage parents or caretakers to stay for a while.
Real Time is a more structure resiliency program with resources for afterschool work, workshops and activities. It is sponsored by Persad Center and currently available from 5-7 on Tuesdays and Fridays at the GLCC. There are also hours in Erie. Real Time is open to youth ages 13-23. Real Time provides snacks and sometimes has some cool prizes and giveaways.
SAY is an alliance of 20+ organizations serving homeless youth ages 13-24, including LGBTQ youth. The GLCC is the host location for daily programming and services including medical clinics, social workers, a closet for clothing and personal items, and more.
General Programming makes many resources available to youth. We can help them and their families connect with other resources such as GLSEN, Persad or PFLAG. We invite our youth to take an active role in the Center by volunteering their time on everything from making banners to sorting donated clothing. Some youth organize drives and projects as part of their school requirements. And they are our best ambassadors when it comes to welcoming someone who is new – they all remember how that felt. Right now, we are collecting school supplies to distribute to our young people. We are always accepting craft and art supplies as well as gently used board games (Sorry is very very popular and the pieces seem to disappear.)
You can see there is a lot of crossover opportunities. Some youth participate in all three programs or move between them based on their needs. Some come weekly, others less frequently. It is always fine to bring a straight friend or sibling. And we welcome visitors – we’ve had GSA’s and other youth groups come in to hang out with us on Friday nights (please all ahead for this.)
For more information on LGBTQ youth programming, please contact the GLCC firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-422-0114. You can also check out the GLCC on Facebook or Twitter or stop in during our regular business hours M-Sat 12-9, Sun 12-6.
The GLCC is located Downtown at 210 Grant Street (next to Fedex) in the lower level. There are surface parking lots across the street and after 6, there is street parking available around the building. The garages at Oxford Center and Macy’s are just a few blocks away. The address is 210 Grant Street, Pittsburgh PA 15219.
It is easy to assume that youth know these programs exist, but that’s clearly not the case. These girls who are already involved in a civic education project did not know what “drop-in” meant and a few didn’t really understand what a community center is – they thought it was a homeless shelter.
If any of the GirlGov young women chose to work with the GLCC, I would ask them to consider this task – how do we disseminate this information to other young people just like them?
If you work with young people, please consider how you might make this information available to them