Me at the National Youth Advocacy Coalition Youth Summit, 1999. I’m 16 years old in this picture. I think my stockings were (barely) held together by safety pins.
I wish I could describe what lifelines queer youth conferences were for me (and a lot of other people) back then — not just NYAC, but Young Loud & Proud, the Overcoming Homophobia Meeting for Youth, the Gay Proms and queer youth dances and Gay-Straight Alliance Network meetings and GLSEN summits and that one time (1998?) that Creating Change was in Oakland and bunch of queer youth activists crashed it… I wish I could capture what it is to be young & queer and to be surrounded by other young queers for the first time. It makes you want to jump and down and scream with joy.
I was one of the less isolated and much luckier kids in attendance at the NYAC summits: I lived in San Francisco and had queer-positive hippie parents and a queer youth center an hour’s streetcar ride away from my house. I also came out when I was 11 at a Catholic middle-school, and spent my 7th and 8th grade years getting very badly bullied; and I grew up and lived in working-class neighborhoods that were anything but queer (or even girl) positive. I ended up attending a private high school across town on scholarship, in large part to escape the emotional and physical violence of the neighborhood kids I’d been in school with… And I also felt like I really stuck out at my high school — not so much because I was queer, but because I was “one of the poor kids.” (Which is absurd, because I’d known poverty growing up, and by the time I was in high school, my family was middle-class — but compared to the other students at my fancy school? Well… I stuck out).
All of which is to say that queer youth conferences provided me a kind of social space I was not able to access anywhere else, and NYAC was particularly wonderful for me. NYAC was one of the first places I made friendship bonds with other queer youth that felt real and connective and lasting. It was one of the first places I did real coalition-building movement work and got to talk to queer kids not just from the next county over, but from across the country. And it was one the first places I felt actually socially ept and at home and liked. I can’t even begin to describe what a gift that was to me as an awkward and nerdy queer teen.
Oh, NYAC peoples — I have such good memories of all our antics, scandal, sweetness, & diva moments at those conferences. The open mics, sharing conference crushes over wraps and cheap fettucine alfredo at Union Station, staying up way too late dancing and gossiping and flirting, plotting to take over the world, awkward adolescent lingering sexually-tense hugs, fighting to win.
NYAC, bless you for giving queer youth a place to shine & rebel. Grazie mille.