Youth Pride: an idea whose time has come

“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” — Harvey Milk

I am truly excited and honored to be part of Philadelphia’s first-ever Youth Pride event, which will take place on July 5. Philly Youth Pride is an event developed by young people, for young people. It will include a series of youth-led workshops from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. at the William Way LGBT Community Center, followed by an afternoon of outdoor festivities. 

It seems fitting that this event will take place in conjunction with the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration, which is going on at venues across the city from July 2-5. Youth Pride is an opportunity for LGBTQ youth and allies (24 and under) to celebrate awareness, visibility and pride. It feels like an extension of a lot of the work Mazzoni does with young LGBTQ people, which is aimed at encouraging positive self-development and expression and building leadership skills.

In our programs, we work with youth from all backgrounds and neighborhoods. We see youth who have been empowered and supported in their environments — whether by parents, classmates, teachers and advisors or others. We know the tremendous difference having a positive environment and an accepting/affirming adult can make in a young person’s life. 

We also work with youth whose experience of the world is dramatically different — young people who have been kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Young people who tested positive for HIV, or who are at very high risk of contracting it. Young people who are homeless or whose housing situation is unstable.

Just as with adults, we know that there is no “single” or definitive experience of being young and LGBTQ, which is part of the reason that bringing this extremely diverse group of young people together is important. We want to encourage connection, networking and dialogue — and to give them a space to explore and address the issues that matter most to them. And most of all, a space where they can safely celebrate who they are and have fun.

From my perspective, Philly Youth Pride is more than just an event. It is young people, who are courageously continuing the legacy of Sylvia Rivera and Harvey Milk. It is a political statement. It is a stand that young people are taking to say: “We are here. We are not just part of the community. We are actively building community.” Philly Youth Pride is a celebration of all the things that keep our young people resilient.

I have been so humbled to have the opportunity to bear witness to the organizing of this event. Watching students work selflessly for many months, through mid-terms and finals, some of them graduating this month and still meeting every week to slowly bring this event, their vision, to fruition. Philly Youth Pride is more than just an event. It is a reminder for me that young people do not need saving: Our young people are saving the world.

And now that I’ve said my piece, here’s what 17-year-old Tyunique Nelson of the organizing committee had to say about the work of producing Philly Youth Pride:

The idea to create our own Youth Pride originated on a trip to the National GSA Network Annual Gathering. We were discussing ways to get people in Philadelphia involved in celebrating LGBTQ youth in Philadelphia, and we figured out that the best way to celebrate youth in Philadelphia would be to throw a Pride event that would be specifically focused on youth. Philadelphia already has a huge Pride event that happens every year, but we wanted to have a space created by youth, for youth.

I and the other three members of the Ally Safe Schools Student Leadership Board spent the summer and school year coming up with new ideas, speaking to community members and leading meetings to put this extravagant event together. We each chose our own roles and stuck to them the entire year. For the first time in Philadelphia’s history, there will be a Philadelphia Youth Pride event! We hope that Philly Youth Pride will be an annual event for many years to come. With the assistance of the amazing Education Team at Mazzoni Center, we were able to plan our event. Planning Philly Youth Pride has helped members of the Student Leadership Board develop and perfect important leadership skills and fulfill our passions.

Philly Youth Pride will take place July 5. In the morning, SLB members will facilitate workshops they have chosen based on issues youth in Philadelphia face. Keith Southerland will facilitate a workshop on online etiquette. Damien Walker will facilitate a workshop on combatting bullying, and I will facilitate “Feelin’ Myself,” a workshop on self-love and body positivity. SLB members created their own workshop topics, activities and materials. The second half of Philly Youth Pride is an alcohol-free block party for people under 24 to enjoy delicious food, interesting tables and a stage reserved for performances. All day, youth from all around Philadelphia will be able to show off their talents!

For more information, visit www.mazzonicenter.org/youth-pride

Louie Ortiz is Mazzoni Center’s education manager and Tyunique Nelson is a member of Mazzoni’s Student Leadership Board.