Queer Youth Space continues its search for a home
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor
Officials for Queer Youth Space (QYS) - a community initiative and coalition that works to secure space for Queer youth in the Seattle area - say that, despite not being able to secure a physical space in 2011 thus far, the organization (and the $100,000 grant they sit on) has more momentum than ever.
‘This last year has been a whirlwind,’ said Genna Watson, a 19-year-old UW student and Queer Youth Space organizer. ‘Since getting a $100,000 grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods in March of last year, we’ve brought in new youth organizers and held several events, including our upcoming Queer Feast event on November 27.’
Watson refers to QYS members as ‘organizers’ because QYS is made up of a youth-led system where the organization and events are run by youth, for youth. Watson told Seattle Gay News that, as it now stands, QYS has at least 20 core organizers.
QYS officials say they’ve been ‘working hard to find a permanent space’ and will continue to do so until they find the right one. However, on Capitol Hill, QYS organizers have found the task easier said than done.
It is important to note that the $100,000 awarded to QYS can only be used on Capitol Hill and is not in the form of a physical check that has been given to the organization. In other words, not one dime of the grant has been spent. According to Watson, the money promised to QYS by the City of Seattle will be spent on rent and the upkeep of the physical space once they find it. However, due to the high cost of ground-level property on the Hill and the lack of ADA-accessible buildings, their search continues.
‘We know that the space we pick has major implications for the durability of our project, so we want to be sure we select one that will allow us to do our best work long into the future,’ said Watson. ‘In particular, ADA accessibility is very important to us, to ensure that we can truly serve all Queer youth in Seattle.’
There are currently four locations on the Hill - which QYS officials refuse to name to ‘respect the landlords’ - the group’s organizers say they are serious about. At one point, Watson told SGN, there were talks between QYS and the soon-to-be-vacated spaces that Gay City occupies. ‘It turns out that a larger part of the building is not accessible for everyone,’ said Watson. ‘Also, the plan was to move into the space with other partners, but it doesn’t look like all of that would work out.’
QYS has until the end of January 2012 before they are faced with having to talk about the status of their money with city of Seattle officials.
Still, Watson said, ‘I think we will find a space. We have several good options. In some ways it is nice to have that January deadline looming to make sure we are staying focused.’
In the meantime, QYS officials maintain they ‘are busier than ever creating temporary Queer youth spaces and preparing the programming and structures’ for when their space does finally open.
Currently, QYS organizers meet weekly, on Sunday at Kaladi Brothers coffee shop (511 E. Pike St.) at 1 p.m. The meetings are not closed to the public and all are welcome, said Watson.
‘Our youth organizers are an incredibly diverse group, representing many different backgrounds and skill sets,’ said Watson. ‘We range from about 15 to 23.’
‘Personally, I have been involved in this project from the beginning, and am now 19 years old,’ she said.
QYS has been around, in one form or another, for over two years.
‘Creating Queer youth space outside of bars and clubs is essential, because the possibilities of what we can do with our space are endless,’ Watson pointed out. ‘We can create an art gallery, provide mental health services, give web-design classes, carry out research space & you name it!’
‘For a quick laugh,’ she added, ‘imagine doing all of that in a bar.’
In fact, QYS had to outline, specifically, what they would like their space to encompass in order to get the grant.
Last June, QYS officials said the Queer-youth-led space, under the moniker ‘Three Wings,’ would consist of a Cultural Activism lab to build Queer peer support networks, a Wellness Collaboration to provide critical education and mental-health services, and a Research & Education Institute, which would work to positively impact the policies and cultural practices that negatively impact the community, by developing a think tank that builds leadership and promotes policy and community change through research, education, and advocacy.
Although the space would remain open to the public, it would be, first and foremost, a space for youth, led by youth.
‘There will always be people who doubt what young people can do,’ said Watson. ‘But we’re here to prove them all wrong. Together, we have already built something incredible.’
There are some unique challenges that QYS has faced, especially aging-out of their constituency. However, said Watson, ‘In general, we don’t see many people leaving. It’s been really nice to see more and more youth reaching out. We’ve got a lot of youth that are aging-in to our organization as well. It’s really exciting. We’ve maintained a steady number of organizers.’
‘We have a lot of momentum right now,’ concluded Watson. ‘In taking our time to find the right space we are finding this to be a strength instead of a weakness. It’s exciting that we have this opportunity and we look forward to creating something sustainable. We are going for it and will do what we can to make sure it happens.’