By Cervante Pope
A strong sense of community is essential for feeling comforted and safe in life. Marginalized groups understand this the most, with youth in particular experiencing the brunt of bullying and negative interactions. For the last 14 years, the Oregon Queer Youth Summit (OQYS) has provided a safe haven for youth on a hyperlocal and regional front, inviting young persons from the coast, Eastern Oregon, California and Washington to participate. The various workshops offered at the summit throughout the years have provided a basis for education, camaraderie and solidarity work. This year was no different.
A large, diverse group of teens, tweens and young adults took over the Cascade campus of Portland Community College on May 13. Hosted by the Queer Resource Center (QRC) and sponsored by the Pride Foundation, the Oregon Youth Development Council, Sankofa Collective, Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), the Q Center, and the Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC), OQYS is a place where persons up to age 24 can enjoy, network and learn from others with shared experiences. The festivities began with breakfast and performances during the opening session, including a Native American smudging and blessing ceremony performed by Veronica Green.
“I feel this is important for people of color and Native people of color because they’re not represented as much, so I had to do this for my people,” says Green, a 16-year-old student at NAYA Family Center’s Early College Academy. The importance of OQYS is something Green recognizes often, given how generally unaccepting and uncomfortable growing up in their hometown of Klamath Falls, Oregon was.
“The Oregon Queer Youth Summit makes me feel accepted and loved even though it’s hard to feel that for me personally,” says Green. “Being from southern Oregon, there’s not many people of color and it can be kind of racist, so I’m glad I have a space to come to be accepted as a person of color who is also queer.”
“Youth are welcomed to bring their entire authentic selves and express their most politically radical visions for youth empowerment.”
Led by fellow queer youth, this year’s OQYS workshops spanned in coverage from more enjoyable activities like “Queer Love Quilting” and “Bath Bombs For Activists and Queers” to the nitty gritty of queer issues, like “Coming Out: Belonging to Ourselves” and “Recipes for Resistance.”
“OQYS has always centered youth voice and expertise, and it has always been on the most radical end of the spectrum as far as youth programming goes,” says Marissa Yang Bertucci, an adult accomplice to the summit who has assisted in training and mentoring youth for the last three years.
“Youth are welcomed to bring their entire authentic selves and express their most politically radical visions for youth empowerment,” says Bertucci. “We engage with racial justice, decolonization of the nonprofit industrial complex, anti-adultism, anti-fascism, gender justice, and community care as fundamental parts of our framework.”
Despite the serious nature of the summit’s objectives, an overall positive, polite and inquisitive air reigned over the whole event. Youths new and of summits prior engaged one another with personal questions and stories. Overheard were conversations about coming out, dynamics among peers at school and future plans to hang out once the next summit comes around. The energy in room was proof of the summit’s positive effects.
“It’s helped me a lot with my leadership skills, just to be another young person out here speaking. All of us are completely driven,” says Sage Duprey, an 18-year-old youth advisor who’s been attending OQYS for three years. “This is who we are and even though we come from different backgrounds, we’re all still here, together as one, putting on an awesome event that no one has really done before.”
The Oregon Queer Youth Summit, and the Queer Prom that usually follows it, are some of the best ways to find the comfort of community so many of us need. Bertucci encourages queer youth of all backgrounds and identities to get involved with OQYS by fundraising, participating in outreach or being on the summit planning team.
“It has been one of the greatest honors of my entire life to work alongside the brilliant youth organizers and attendees of OQYS,” says Bertucci. “Now more than ever, we are affirmed that if we create a joyful space of resistance, folks are motivated to seek us out and resist joyfully with us.”
“We already have to deal with people not accepting us, telling us we’re not human and such,” says Duprey. “It really takes this for us to come all together and be able to do workshops and be able to hang out with one another. We can all learn from somebody else.”