Author’s Note: Since one of the group’s agreements is the “Vegas rule” (which means what’s said there stays there), I tried to protect the privacy of everyone involved. That being said, everything in this piece is true and every named individual gave verbal consent to their involvement in the piece.
In a world reeling from the recent anti-LGBT attack in Orlando, the Carnegie Library teen section’s gender & sexuality alliance (GSA) is a place full of hope. The GSA’s group of teens is diverse and mature yet open and hilarious; these characteristics fostered exactly the kind of honest discussion I had anticipated. While the August 10th discussion was what I had hoped for, the group also blew me away with their candor and wisdom.
The August 10th meeting was youth-led by participant Skylar Rella, who presented on the topic of “Gender vs. Sexuality: do they relate?” The topic itself is an incredibly complicated issue for anyone to tackle, let alone teenagers, but this group quickly proved their expertise on the topic. Skylar opened the discussion by asking if gender and sexuality relate and the group openly disagreed with each other. Some members felt that by saying there was a correlation, they were discounting the fluidity of both gender and sexuality. Others felt that there was an obvious relation because sexuality is dictated by what gender you’re attracted to. Despite conflicting views, conflict was avoided and inclusion was enforced. While not everyone agreed, everyone accepted the opinions and experiences of their peers. Many teenagers don’t experience this type of acceptance in high school, which emphasizes the urgent need for safe spaces like GSA.
The dialogue mounted with the next questions, ‘why do they (gender and sexuality) share the same community’ and if they should. The group agreed that society tends to group “outcasts” together, hence the unbelievably diverse LGBT+ community. Then they discussed how the narrative of LGBT+ folks is often the same; it’s usually the story of cisgender gay white men. Unfortunately this narrative doesn’t embody the majority of the community, from non-binary to bisexual to transgender individuals, all of which happened to be represented at the GSA meeting.
The discussion then shifted to intersectionality and inclusion instead of erasure. A participant, Oliver, pointed out that “Queer spaces often become white spaces.” From my own experience, I’ve noticed that while the LGBT+ community and communities of color overlap, their work and discussions tend to be exclusive. I don’t make this point to discount the incredible intersectional work being done throughout the city, but to emphasize the importance of GSA’s welcoming and inclusive environment.
I’m grateful that spaces like this exist and I encourage any Pittsburgh teens to join, whether they’re gay, straight, or anything in between. The group meets at the Carnegie Library-Main on Thursdays from 5-6 PM.