It seems cliché to say that I never thought I would have an impact on the youth of my community, especially as a teenager myself. When I came out as queer in the spring of my sophomore year in high school, my (thankfully accepting) mother asked me if I wanted to go to a “support group” of sorts. Desperate to meet other LGBTQIA people my age and to wax and wane about the struggles that came with being openly out in the microcosmic world of high school, I vehemently agreed. This group, the Rainbow Youth Alliance, met during the weekly meetings of the Columbia chapter of PFLAG, or the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. As I continued to attend these meetings, I came to realize how many teens made the half-hour trek from the Towson area, a particularly difficult task if one did not have a car and/or accepting parents. Since I also made this trip every Tuesday, I decided to do something about it.
In the fall of my junior year, I approached the leader of PFLAG Howard County with the idea to create an RYA in the Towson area. He told me that there was, in fact, a PFLAG chapter in Towson, but they did not have a youth group at the moment, and he would be happy to help me start one. With the help of two friends and two adult coordinators and many meetings later, Rainbow Youth Alliance Baltimore County was created.
We did not start out as successfully as we had planned, but as we advertised ourselves in schools and at both Columbia and Towson PFLAG meetings, we grew to a sizable group of about fifteen queer young adults. During the meetings, we not only played games and watched queer-themed movies, but we also formed friendships that have sustained the four years since the group’s inception.
Watching the group evolve and serve its purpose of providing a safe space for queer youth to talk about being newly out, facing harassment at school or at home, and the difficulties of finding romance in an extremely small dating pool and meeting other LGBTQIA individuals without the ability to go to gay bars was an extremely fulfilling experience. Being a part of this experience has influenced me to expand my queer activism to older age groups by pursuing a career in aging services for queer elders, namely at SAGE, or the Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders. Regardless of what my efforts will come to accomplish, I will always hope to embody the goals that drove me to create my own RYA- to provide support and a source of affirmation for individuals berated by a heteronormative and cissexist society.