Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth Activism

Have you ever had a young person challenge you about a social norm or long-held belief and thought, “they’re just naive”? Or perhaps “they just don't get it”?

That, my friends, could be a touch of adultism… which even I, as the Executive Director of a youth-facing organization, am not immune to. It’s in the air we breathe.

But I am quickly brought back to the truth: youth activism is ALWAYS at the forefront of shaping a more equitable and just world.

During the Stonewall Riots of 1969, many of the queer and trans activists who led protests against police brutality were youth. At the time, they were considered agitators, out of step with the rest of society - even among folks within the LGBTQ+ community. Decades later, I imagine you can see a throughline that the activism of Stonewall propelled forward to this day.

More recently, youth-led organizing like Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) have been instrumental in advocating for gender liberation and justice for all across the U.S. Just last year, Vermont's GSAs joined hundreds of other GSAs across the country, to create a list of demands that would ensure queer and trans youth autonomy.

And at this moment, we see youth - from elementary to graduate school age - across the country, leading protests calling for a cease-fire in Palestine. Youth cut through the silence and the silencing to live and show their values, while many others either look away or accept what has always been, even with a nagging sense that something is terribly wrong.

We know how LGBTQ+ youth make the world a better place, but even as well-meaning, supportive adults, we can trip up when our comfort zones of beliefs are challenged.

What’s incredibly inspiring? Today's generation is different.

Working closely with youth, I'm struck by how Gen Z and Gen Alpha understand, explore, and integrate intersectionality as a non-negotiable core belief. It's deep and intuitive, not academic or performative.

Sure, there’s a generational divide that’s natural in cultural evolution, but I’ve wondered why it continues when the evidence is clear that we have so much to gain.

I’ve noticed that with older generations—Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials included— intersectionality is not as well understood, and to be honest, in some cases, even denied as an authentic experience.

If you're unfamiliar with the concept, or just want to be reacquainted, it was a framework created by groundbreaking activist and civil rights leader Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to name how race and gender overlap to create a complex and detrimental form of injustice experienced by black folks, specifically femmes. (See Kimberlé Crenshaw TedTalk: "The Urgency of Intersectionality from 2016) The term has since been broadened to describe how systems of inequality based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class, and other forms of discrimination "intersect."

Crenshaw's gift profoundly shapes how young activists are transforming the world today, demanding the right to live fully, where the multitudes of our authentic selves should neither be threatened nor trampled upon, but rather celebrated, embraced, and deeply held throughout our societal structures.

Central to the vision LGBTQ+ youth hold is a nuanced understanding that we are all in this together.

I recently had someone ask why an issue that was far from Vermont should matter to queer and trans youth here, insinuating that LGBTQ+ youth are a monolithic group, not impacted by what’s happening in the broader landscape. Implicit in the question was the notion that if it doesn’t impact youth here, it shouldn’t matter. We are conditioned to think in limiting ways - insert notions of white supremacy culture, binary thinking, ableism, etc. When you think of ‘LGBTQ+ youth,’ what image comes to mind for you?

At Outright, we intentionally use the "+" in "LGBTQ+." We are made up of a multitude of identities, including gender, sexuality, ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, and geographical backgrounds, each of which influences our individual experiences and perspectives. We are a beautifully complex and diverse community of artists, creators, makers, advocates, activists, leaders, and more!

Why am I digging into this? Because we all play a role in advocating alongside queer and trans kids, period. And without examining adultism, we can get stuck, believing that youth don't have the answers and/or adults know best, or devaluing their point of view and solutions. May we not be further obstacles to the various blocks LGBTQ+ youth face, which can inadvertently further discrimination, misunderstanding and burnout.

A core value at Outright is that LGBTQ+ youth are uniquely positioned to articulate what changes are necessary for their well-being, and they should not have to wait for the adults in their lives to come around. It’s our constant touchstone, driving us to support their activism and vision.

As our Queer Ethic and Guiding Principles highlight, the LGBTQ+ community has always survived by imagining the world anew:

"No construct or tradition is too sacred to be questioned, torn down, or rebuilt with gorgeous flair.”
“Just as love is the antidote to hate, liberation is the antidote to white supremacy. We choose to give attention to the liberation of all people."

So, the next time you feel challenged by youth on a long-held belief, take a beat and consider the wisdom in their perspective. Looking for other ways to dig in? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Practice Making Space: Actively create opportunities for youth to express themselves and share their ideas in supportive environments.

  • Value Wisdom of Lived Experiences: Recognize and appreciate the unique insights and knowledge that young people gain from their own life experiences.

  • Find The Connections: Identify and nurture connections between young people's interests and real-world applications within communities, projects, ideology, and the like.

  • Evaluate Your Role: Continuously assess and adjust the role you play in young people's lives to best support their development and autonomy.

Let us always remember: Liberation wants liberation for all of us - we can not and will not win a war with war. We can not dismantle the master's house with the master's tools.

 "For the master's tool will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change." -Audre Lorde

A Permanent Home for Camp Outright!

With the historic aquisition of beautiful Camp Sunrise, we're bringing to life the power of radical hope for LGBTQ+ youth. Heck Yeah! 

Read all about it!