Youthful optimism

Youthful optimism

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First, let me say what this column is not about.

One of my closeted friends who has been totally outraged by the election just dropped off at the PGN office a bundle of hats embroidered on the front with the slogan “Make America Smart Again.” Many of us are angry and President-Elect Donald Trump’s choices for the new government are making us nervous, but let’s bottle that anger for when it will need to be used. That time will come only if our rights or those of any Americans are infringed upon. We need to conserve our angst in order to fight. With that, let me give you a little hope. 

Thanks to two events this week, the future looks a little brighter to me. The first was the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus annual holiday concert. At the pre-concert party, PGMC leaders talked about the organization’s outreach program, in which the members of the group perform at area schools. Members then read letters they had received from young, closeted students who were in their audiences about how the simple act of out gay men singing at their school had given them courage to come out or a vision of a possible future. One of the students actually got on stage at the PGMC event and explained how the group’s visit to her school had changed her life. It was a touching tribute that showed how one organization can change perceptions for the next generation and empower them with positive role models. 

Later in the week, The Attic Youth Center sent five interns to the PGN office to learn more about how a newspaper works. Again these were high-school students. Their visit made me see how the simple act of communication among our out community members and youth can and will make equality a reality, and also give hope to young students.

This column was written with two people in mind: Tony Russomanno and Mark Horn. 

About six months after the Stonewall riots, and as a part of Gay Liberation Front in New York, we created the nation’s first LGBT youth organization, Gay Youth. We called ourselves G.Y. for short. Our mission then was to reach out to young gay people — and at that time, 99.9 percent of LGBT youth were in the closet; they had to be — and explain that there was hope in the future and a community for them. 

Our fliers clearly stated that our goals were both political and social. We even surprised our older comrades in the Gay Liberation Front with our media outreach directed at LGBT youth. We went on radio and even TV shows. We also were the first LGBT organization to speak at a high school — and if you want to see how far this community has come, all you have to note is how that high school we visited in Oceanside, Long Island, reacted to our talk. One of my mementos of those days is a copy of the Spider Press, the newspaper of Oceanside High School. There on the cover is a picture of Russomanno and myself with the headline, “Gay Activist Lecture: They Are Not Neurotic.” After all, it was Oct. 23, 1970.

To witness the modern outreach to LGBT youth, one of the most endangered segments of our community, makes me proud and thankful to our community organizations that understand the needs of LGBT youth and try to make their lives a little easier. They’re showing them, and us, that the future is bright.

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