Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lessons Learned in New York

The first leg of the Vanguard Speaking tour kicked off in New York City this weekend. Mia Tu Mutch, Joey Plaster and myself (Pastor Megan Rohrer) shared stories, video and experiences from more than two years of research about the Vanguard youth of the 60's and a year of working with and listening to the queer homeless young adults in San Francisco.

Our first presentation kicked off at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan. Home of Trinity Place a shelter for queer youth, despite the locale the audience was almost entirely young adults.

Honoring the sacredness of the stories shared through the multimedia presentation, images were projected onto the altar. See the video being projected here.

Following the talk we celebrated with a Lady Gaga Mass , whose offering went to benefit Trinity Place.
On Sunday morning, I preached at Trinity and learned more from the church members about the origin of their shelter and their commitment to serve vulnerable youth and provide a much needed transition space from the streets to a real home and stable life.
The congregation shared that they would soon be renovating their bathrooms because of a fundraiser that raised $25,000 and was sponsored by the Emperors. Though much of the conversations that I heard from the young adults on this trip is that they felt disconnected to the middle class, mostly white gay community whose primary focus was on spending millions and putting energy into issues they felt were less important than their emergent needs for food, shelter and safety from hate crimes, it was great to hear that the drag and camp that helped a generation live through the darkest moments of the AIDS crisis were still working for justice and raising funds for those most in need.
Our third talk was a youth only event at Sylvia's Place at MCCNY. Here our talk was more of a conversation that compared and contrasted the situation for queer homeless youth in New York and San Francisco.
Given copies of The latest edition of Vanguard Magazine that puts the Vanguard youth of the 60's and today in conversation, we hope to begin the conversation with the youth in New York about how they can identify themselves, their needs and begin to claim their own safe spaces. (see video of Mia reading an excerpt from the magazine)

As young adults connected to Sylvia's Place it wasn't surprising that the New York youth expressed that they felt connected to health services and drop in centers. Yet, one of the biggest concerns they raised was their need for safety in the streets, protection from hate crimes and to feel like they could be welcome somewhere. Just as the youth in San Francisco felt there was no place for them in the Castro, the youth in New York expressed feeling disconnected from a rapidly gentrifying Village.

Kristine and Mia shared some additional thoughts about the difference between trans experiences in New York and San Francisco. Check out the video here.
After the talk we went to have dinner near Times Square and I was struck by the consumeristic culture, the vanity and over the top campiness. It reminded me of all the romantic ideals that cause young adults to flee to the cities after running away or getting thrownaway from their homes. Just one of the stops on our journey through the cities of what the youth describe as the underground queer railroad where they search for acceptance and a sense of home, I learned a lot from this city and the fabulous youth.
One that may last the longest are the ways the caricatures of homeless queer youth, transfolk, and the big city can be all at once beautiful and like the piles and piles of hot smelly trash found in even the ritziest districts of New York. The problems and stories seem so similar in cities so far away and of those who are being remembered from nearly fifty years ago. In this world of social connectedness and through this journey, I sincerely hope that sharing stories and encouraging young adults to speak out, sleep out and act up can rewrite this story.
Location:Times Square, New York

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