“Queer Camp” Provides Affirming Space for Youth

by Carolyn Bick

Zae Giri has come out twice. But the first time wasn’t by choice.

“The first time was in seventh grade. … I was at the doctor’s office, and you know on the paperwork, where they have you put down your sexual orientation? I put that down, and made my mom look away, made sure she wasn’t looking, but as soon as I started filling it out, she kind of peeked over my shoulder,” Giri said. “Later on, she confronted me about it in the middle of the lobby. It’s a good thing it was fairly empty, but, like, it was kind of embarrassing.”

The second time Giri came out was about a month ago, to reveal his trans identity. The Hispanic-Indian teen said he bought a Transgender Pride flag off Amazon with his own money and hung it in his room. Despite some strife with his mother, who yelled at him, and initially kept misgendering him and “deadnaming” him (using the name given to him at birth), Giri has since taught his three-year-old sister to call him “brother,” so things have been less stressful.

“That kind of helped my mom a lot, because she was like, ‘Well, that baby is calling him “brother,”’ Giri said. “We also babysit my cousin a few times a week, and she starts calling me ‘brother,’ and they call me ‘Zae-Zae’ … and it’s just really fun, and I think it helped her.”

This is why Giri finds QSA Cafes and Friday’s special Queer Camp at the Skyway Public Library so valuable. Even though he said his father is supportive, at the cafes Giri never has to worry about being judged, or feel as though he has to censor himself.

Though the camp saw a turnout of about eight young adolescents, the weekly cafes usually see a smaller turnout – hardly a surprise, said organizer and teen’s librarian Maggie Block, since they only began this past January. But there is a need for them, she said, based on conversations she’s had with queer youth at the library.

“So much of … queer social spaces are designed around drinking, and so many spaces are bars, and if you are sober, or underage, then you naturally can’t go to those spaces,” Block said.

(From left to right) Tesia Lyon, Zae Giri, and Maggie Block hang up Pride flags, during Queer Camp at the Skyway Public Library in the unincorporated King County neighborhood of Skyway. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

Tesia Lyon, a Renton teen who has attended the QSA Cafes since their inception, agreed that it’s important for adolescents who may be in the process of questioning their gender identities and sexual orientations to have spaces like the cafes and the camp.

“There aren’t a lot of spaces for LGBT teens to get together outside school where they can feel safe,” Lyon said.

Lyon said she has been lucky enough to have been born into a family and have friends who accept her sexual orientation without question or concern. In fact, she said, her mother is queer, “and so she was just very accepting. It wasn’t a big deal.”

But that isn’t the case with everyone, especially not children of color, Block said. The majority of the teens who attended Queer Camp were white, a makeup that underscores the issue.

“I definitely know and have known queer youth of color, and varying degrees of being out. … I think it depends on who your parents are,” Block said. “That is one of the things I have been trying to think about – like, how can we get more adults in Skyway to be more supportive, and I think that could be a really big step. I think Skyway is a really diverse community. If we were to start modeling adults within the community as being supportive, and vocal about their support, I think that could be a positive change.”

Giri, who used to live in the Rainier Beach area, is part of the committee putting on this July’s Latinx Gay Pride festival at El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, and is in charge of youth activities at the festival. He hopes he can help put together a QSA Cafe booth for the festival, specifically to help encourage queer youth of color to come out – literally and figuratively.

Zines sit on a table during Queer Camp at the Skyway Public Library. [Photo: Carolyn Bick]
“There are gay people everywhere, and a lot of people [in the Rainier Beach area] aren’t really accepting, using derogatory terms, and all that,” Giri said. “Rainier Beach is literally right there. … They can literally just come [to the camp], and if we can just get a little of Rainier Beach, that is what I want to do, really what I would like to see happen, because that’s where I grew up.”

QSA Cafes take place every Thursday at the Skyway Library, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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