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Wednesday, June 8,2011

Stepping out, coming out

Youth White Party offers LGBT teens a safe haven

by Lawrence Cosentino

Some people avoid dances for fear of
being outed as a lousy dancer. When you’re in your teens, going to your
first dance that’s for gays and lesbians, a bit more support is in
order.


Friday night, teens from area high
schools and colleges will soak in heady, supportive vibes at the Youth
White Party, at the Creole Gallery.


Old Town is now the tamest of places,
home to attorneys, quaint antique shops, even a granite countertop
showroom. But it was once a bohemian enclave and center of gay and
lesbian activism in the Lansing area.


That spirit still pulsates in the annual
White Party, held the night before Michigan Pride events (this year at
Spiral, Esquire, Sir Pizza and the festival tent). 


The Youth White Party, in its second
year, gives teens from mid-Michigan a chance to take part in the larger
White Party and glimpse the world as it should be.


“It’s hard for them to feel safe at a
high school dance,” Katy Gilchrist, a counselor at Okemos High School,
said. “It brings them down to Old Town, where they can feel safe about
being openly gay, which is tough for high schoolers to do.” 


Gilchrist chaperoned at last year’s Youth White Party and will do it again this year.


It’s fun to dance to pop music from a top
Detroit DJ and party with peers, but kids also get a life lesson
hanging on the sidewalk, meeting revelers from the larger White Party
swirling around.


“These are kids who don’t know what
they’re going to be yet,” Gilchrist said. “They see community leaders
who have been openly gay for years, all kinds of people. They see adults
who have made it and are gay.”


Michigan Pride youth liaison Shelly Olson
said the experience can help get kids make it through a tough time.
“They can see that it gets better, it gets easier,” Olson said.


The parents, Olson said, are sometimes a tougher sell.


“We had several students last year who
wanted to come, but their parents were very uncomfortable with the whole
idea,” Gilchrist said.


Gilchrist spends a lot of time counseling
parents and their gay or lesbian children. She sees the youth dance as a
rare opportunity to move the needle of acceptance for everyone
involved.


“The student needs to know it’s OK to be
who they are, and the parents need to know it’s a safe place for their
kids,” Gilchrist said. “It’s kind of a process for these kids, to work
through it.”


One student who went to last year’s dance
had just come out to his parents. “The mom just was not comfortable
with it yet,” Gilchrist said.


She brought him to the dance, came in,
and liked what she saw. “That started the process of her getting
comfortable with the whole idea,” Gilchrist said. “It was a real moving
experience.”


Gateway Community Services is partnering with Michigan Pride to help with chaperoning and promotion.


For the second year, a youth contingent will also march at Saturday’s Pride parade, set to start at 11 in the morning.


Last year, students from eight high schools marched in Michigan Pride with a float decorated by Gilchrist and a friend.


“That was really heart-warming, to see that for the first time,” Olson said.



Michigan Pride Teen White Party
7-11 p.m. Friday, June 10
Creole Gallery
1218 Turner St., Lansing
www.michiganpride.org
$5
18 & Under Only

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