A Safe Space: On Louisville Youth Group

The universal transgender flag. Photo by Flickr user torbakhopper
The universal transgender flag. Photo by Flickr user torbakhopper

He descends the steps from his Friday sanctuary to the seat of his father’s car as an uncomfortable silence ensues. Hearing a familiar song on the car radio, YPAS vocal major Carter Devore (10) begins singing the chorus in his alto tone. Not in the mood to face his father’s off-putting comments, he immediately stops.

“If I sing really loudly or something he’ll just be like ‘This is how I know you’re not a boy,’” Devore said.

Devore is not alone in facing unsupportive parents regarding his status as a transgender male. Devore struggles heavily with the emotional duress of his father intentionally not using male pronouns or with using Devore’s chosen name. Luckily, Devore can turn to the Louisville Youth Group (LYG), a non-religious-affiliated youth group for LGBTQA+ teenagers in the Louisville area, when he faces these issues.

Every Friday Carter attends LYG, where he is respected and praised for who he is.

Former Executive Director of LYG, Mr. Donald Taylor, explained the mission of LYG: “We’ve had a mission of creating a safe spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth and that mission remains true today,” Taylor said.

LYG hosts a number of queer-friendly meetings and events for Louisville youth. They not only extend their services to queer youth, but to allies as well. “We recognize that to be an ally also puts you at risk, because if you are stepping in, not just being like, ‘Oh yeah, LGBT is fine,’ if you actually step in, then you make yourself a target and you run the risk of being bullied yourself. We recognize that those people [allies] also need support and need help to learn how to be good and effective allies, and it’s really important for sexual minorities and gender minorities to know that they’re not alone, that there are people outside of our community that want them to be successful as well,” Taylor said.

One of the least utilized LYG hosted events is the weekly tutoring sessions after school on Fridays. Students who do attend are able to work one-on-one with an LYG Academic Advisor up until the Social Hour (7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.) and the annual LYG meeting (8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.).

“I like going to the tutoring session on Fridays because it’s very quiet, and there’s always a lot of people there who are super smart and helpful, and you really do get help,” Devore said.

Queer youth struggle with discomfort not only in their skin, but in their homes as well. LYG attempts to provide a sanctuary of sorts for those unable to focus at home.

“If kids aren’t feeling safe or if they’re in a constant flight or fight, they’re having to protect themselves. If you’re having to protect yourself to survive, then you’re not going to be able to focus as much academically as you should be. So, if we can reduce some of that stress so that when they get to school on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, they can feel safer and will hopefully be more prepared to learn,” Taylor said.

If any LYG youth were having problems at school, Taylor tried to take the initiative to call the school and work with the teachers and administrators to find a solution.

“Sometimes LGBT youth aren’t able to go to their parent if they’re being bullied at school, being picked on, or if a teacher is treating them disrespectfully or just inappropriately, then they may not be able to go to their parents, but they can come to us. We can call the teacher and say, ‘Hey, you know, we’re just curious, this is your student’s perception, what’s going on?’, so we can help create that safe space,” Taylor said.

Academic Advisor Donovan McCubbins is not a Friday regular, but observes during the evening meeting the difference in those who took advantage of tutoring. “They seem very comfortable, very relaxed, more so than your average person. And I think that’s probably a good place, because they know they can just come here, and think ‘Oh, I can do my homework without any problems’.  I don’t think that’s necessarily a conscious idea, it’s just that you come here and ‘Oh, y’know, I’m good here.’  I can tell that from the kids I’ve seen it makes an impact. They’re very open, outspoken, it’s good. They’re flourishing.” McCubbins said.

As Devore heads home with his father after a productive Friday at LYG, he tells his father about the meeting. “Usually when I get out I tell him everything that happened, like one night we had a drag night where everybody made up their own drag persona, and we made dresses for people. He usually says ‘That’s okay that you’re saying this but that’s an inappropriate conversation topic for other people,” Devore said.

And, Despite his father’s lack of support, Devore continues to hope that one day, his father will accept him as male. “I really avoid hiding who I am when I’m around him, because maybe if I don’t try to hide it, he’ll figure out that he can’t suppress it. Maybe someday he’ll say ‘Okay, you can be my son now,’” Devore said.