by Alexa Jones
In middle school, the only youth group I had available to me was based at a local church. The leader was an experienced priest who frequently went on tirades about any marginalized community she wanted to pick on for the week. Needless to say, I didn’t stay in that group for very long considering that I am 1) Hispanic and didn’t want to be told how I was going to hell for that and 2) Bisexual and didn’t want to be told how I would burn in an eternal fire of salacious potential filled with current prostituting sodomites for that either. Where can queer youth find spaces that are appropriate for them and easy to access? If you’re in Austin or the surrounding region, Out Youth, a counseling center for LGBTQ+ youth, has the answer. Located along Airport and E 49 ½ Street, it provides a litany of services for little to no cost. For example, teens and their parents can take advantage of a number of services, including:
- Counseling for ages 12-23, with an age-out process by 24;
- Trans wellness services;
- Health and safe sex training;
- Free HIV testing;
- Family support services.
I began interning at Out Youth in Fall 2019 because I wanted to get more involved in LGBTQ+ community service. The environment is remarkably cozy, probably because OutYouth is a literal two-story home. My supervisor, Kathryn, while direct and efficient, also gave off the best auntie vibes. In addition, she was willing to work around my schedule. As an RTF and Government double major with a minor in Chinese, I needed to set up times that were consistent with my schedule while also not unnecessarily overloading myself. I found that my time and that of every volunteer, intern, and employee at Out Youth was respected. OutYouth also was the only place I’ve worked that had legitimate toilet paper that isn’t made out of what feels like sand paper, and honestly that was a complete blessing compared to other institutions I have been involved with (I’m looking at you, UT).
But what exactly did I do at Out Youth? Currently, Out Youth is set to celebrate its 30th anniversary and needed an Alumni Coordinator to contact the thousands of families that are associated with the organization over the years. As a coordinator, it was my job to establish a year-long game plan to create a functioning alumni system. I contacted alumni organizations such as Texas Exes, as well as Moody College, to get their input on how to start our own chapter system. I pored over dozens of newsletter templates in order to craft an alumni newsletter that would best fit Out Youth’s theme.
In addition to obsessing over newsletters, I analyzed the alumni Facebook page and gave suggestions on how to increase activity from our members. Glancing over the timeline, I noticed one post in particular. Tucked away amongst the scattered photos of alumni, a partially torn, black and white photo of a student accompanied a post asking for help. The person who posted detailed that the photo was of her friend from 1995, how they went to Out Youth together, and that today she has no idea where he is and is currently trying to reconnect. Staring at the computer screen, I was taken aback by a surreal feeling I couldn’t quite place. Here was a man, probably about my age, stuck in a time capsule. He stood right by the double door where I had worked earlier that day, looking back at me with a charming grin and messy, youthful spirit.
Never before had I seen a moment of LGBTQ+ history in such an unmediated state. Normally I’d have to peruse outdated textbooks for information, and usually these texts would discuss the community in terms of violence: a discussion of Harvey Milk’s assassination here, the Stonewall riots there. Most often, I’ve seen an examination of how we have been abused and victimized. It’s rare to see mention of queer people just living their lives. It’s as if we only exist in terms of how heteronormativity mistreats us. Seeing this photo, this direct line and statement of bold queerness in an accepting space in which we thrive, reminded me of the independence we have once we create our own spaces.
Queer spaces obviously are not a new thing. In Austin alone I could point to the several drag bars that celebrate the community and promote our excellence. However, queer youth spaces are not so available, and having a space that isn’t fueled by how many margaritas you can buy for two dollars is important as well. Out Youth seeks to close this divide by not only providing a friendly space for LGBTQ+ youth, but also helping those who want to integrate a Gay Straight Alliance into their own school. Out Youth’s Texas GSA Network facilitates local students to advocate for themselves and their own spaces through volunteer service and peer empowerment.
In middle school, I never had a space where I could be myself authentically around adults who understood my perspective. At Out Youth, I was moved to find that although I never had the acceptance I yearned for as a child, I can give that experience to other young adults doing their best to find themselves in a world that seems so large and overwhelming. It’s your favorite auntie’s house, and we all need that.