As Juneau celebrates Pride Month in myriad ways, the Zach Gordon Youth Center brought the celebration to dozens of the city’s teenagers in an event on Saturday.
It marks the second time the center has held a Pride event, after the pandemic prevented an event last year, said ZGYC housing navigator Ty Shae.
“There are things like the Pride party that are welcoming and celebratory. You could see it on the kids’ faces, how powerful it was,” Shae said. “They deserve to be safe and happy and that allows for them advocate for themselves outside the safe spaces.”
The party was as much to celebrate the month as to reinforce for LGBTQ youth in Juneau that there’s somewhere safe and sympathetic for them to go.
“It really is important. It’s not just a fun celebration, it’s important to show support in the community, that (LGBTQ youth) are cared for and loved,” Shae said. “There’s a lot of things that kids within the LGBTQ community face disproportionately.”
According to an annual survey by the Trevor Project, a nonprofit dedicated to crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ youth deal with mental health issues, discrimination and suicidal thoughts at rates as high as twice those of cisgender youth.
“When things get hard, as it inevitably does, we’re showing them they have support of the community, the support of the (ZGYC),” Shae said. “Hopefully, it provides them with a sense of community so they know they have support.”
Teenagers came out for the Saturday event, which featured games, door prizes, food and a thoroughly age-appropriate drag show put on by local drag performers.
“The Zach is very open and very welcoming to everyone,” said Roman Mahanyu, one of the local teens who attended on Saturday, in an interview. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re welcome here.”
Partnering organizations contributed to the event, with representatives from AWARE, Planned Parenthood and Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska providing prizes and running event stations during the celebration.
“I like how inclusive it is,” said Eren Conklin, another teenager attending the celebration, in the interview. “It’s very diverse.”
Having a safe place for LGBTQ youth with adults who are supportive can make a huge difference for kids, Shae said.
“It’s helpful for kids to have supportive adults. A lot of them that we see coming through are having problems with the people taking care of them,” Shae said. “Just having one or two helpful adult relationships is really suicide prevention.”
While the ZGYC was only shut down for a few weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, Shae said, there were markedly less youth visiting the center for a long period of time. Kids started returning to regular numbers as schools started reopening.
The ZGYC is currently hosting “The Alliance,” a drop-in weekly social space for LGBTQ teenagers in middle school, as well as hosting Planned Parenthood as they offer sex education for LGBTQ teenagers aged 14-19 at the ZGYC on July 12, 19 and 26 from 4- 5:50 p.m.
For more information, check out center’s social media at https://www.facebook.com/zachgordonyouthcenterprograms or call the ZGYC at 907-586-2635.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.