More Than a GSA Network
May 4, 2012
by Bradley Osborn
Who finds and enables current and future LGBTQA youth activists? EQUAL does.
EQUAL, or Empowering Queer Activists and Leaders, is the Kansas City area’s youth-led gay-straight alliance (GSA) network. It safely connects queer youth in the metropolitan area for socializing, support, education, activism and community involvement.
Youth leaders founded EQUAL in 2007 to support the development of local queer youth into healthy, empowered, socially conscious leaders. In 2009, an ad hoc team called the Phoenix Project, which wanted to work toward opening a safe and welcoming drop-in, brick-and-mortar youth center, established the EQUAL Youth Center, which exists virtually at equalcenter.org.
gay-straight alliance – an extracurricular student organization for LGBTQ youth and their allies, usually found in high schools and colleges.
EQUAL works with about 40 very active GSAs in the region and many others in operation. There is also interest in GSA-formation coming from rural areas and middle schools.
The youth-focused activities of EQUAL, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, are planned by the Phoenix Leadership Team (PLT), EQUAL’s youth advisory board. PLT is composed of the most highly motivated youth within the organization. The Phoenix Leadership Team was named after the Phoenix Society, Kansas City’s first gay rights group.
Gay-straight alliances are under attack by anti-gay politicians, as shown by Missouri legislators’ recent introduction of House Bill 2051, a so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill would prohibit discussions of sexual orientation at public schools, except during scientific instruction about reproduction.
“The promotion of ignorance is in no way the purpose for which our schools exist,” said Zoë Mays, EQUAL Phoenix Leadership Team member, commenting on HB 2051.
A big part of passing the torch of activism to the next generation of youth is EQUAL’s annual Empowerment Summit. Each summit is a day of training, seminars and interactions that brings local GSA members, educators and allied community members together to advance queer issues. The 2012 summit was March 31 on the campus of UMKC.
“This was the biggest EQUAL Youth Empowerment Summit yet!” said Wick Thomas, board president of EQUAL. “We had over 160 registrants for a day of GSA networking, activist and leadership trainings and really intense discussions about social justice in Kansas City. I have never been more proud than when I saw the PLT members opening The Summit. These teenagers organized a huge event and continually prove themselves as some of the most dedicated and brilliant activists I have met, not just in Kansas City, but nationally.”
On March 25, EQUAL hosted the Soulforce Equality Riders when they stopped in Kansas City. Participants in the Soulforce Equality Ride visit schools across the country that openly discriminate against the LGBT community. Riders, who are trained in nonviolent activism, try to start a conversation and establish queer-straight alliances.
Thomas, EQUAL board member Kimmy DeVries and EQUAL member Colin Daniels are all Equality Ride alumni, and Yantézia Patrick serves on both the EQUAL and Soulforce boards. Thomas credits the Equality Ride with forging hir as an activist.
Each year, EQUAL supports queer youth and allies as they participate in the Day of Silence, a nationwide event meant to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. On April 20, EQUAL sponsored a Breaking the Silence rally and the Night of Noise celebration, after the day of quiet action.
EQUAL’s Midwest QueerFest is coming back this summer. It will celebrate community, social justice and art in the spirit of the Stonewall Riots, as an alternative to corporate-funded pride events.
EQUAL also takes part in National Coming Out Day, hosts the Young Trans Social Group and sponsors actions such as The Call Out of Uganda, which opposes an anti-LGBT ministry named The Call.
Thomas welcomed anyone who wants to join EQUAL or help the group’s efforts: “EQUAL is expanding really rapidly. We need youth mentors, activists, social justice leaders, volunteers, donations, educators, organizers, everything! We will find a way for you to get involved. We do a lot of really great work on a very small budget and always need more people to help facilitate the work and growth of EQUAL. We have a strong stance of never turning youth away due to lack of funds, and that is only possible because of the generous donations from the community.”
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