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LGBTQ in the capital, Part V: Support and celebration in the LGBTQ community

Posted: May 2, 2013 - 12:10am
A small group of mostly University of Alaska Southeast students sit around a fire to talk and tell stories at the Noyes Pavilion on Friday evening for the "Days of Silence, Night of Noise" event. The national event is to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. The Juneau event was sponsored by the Gay-Straight Alliance.   Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
A small group of mostly University of Alaska Southeast students sit around a fire to talk and tell stories at the Noyes Pavilion on Friday evening for the "Days of Silence, Night of Noise" event. The national event is to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. The Juneau event was sponsored by the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Despite the challenges highlighted in this series, from coming out and bullying to seeking marriage equality and protection from discrimination, and even being barred from donating blood, members of the LGTBQ community say there is still plenty to celebrate.

Juneau’s LGBTQ community has banded together to form groups to support one another and better the community, as well as hosting events from the annual Pride Picnic in June to the Femme Fatale drag show coming up this weekend, to the Day of Silence/Night of Noise held recently at the University.

SEAGLA (SouthEast Alaska Gay and Lesbian Alliance) was founded in 1985. The group provides “a supporting social network for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in Southeast Alaska. We foster personal and public acceptance of these persons as members of society with full economic, social, legal and political rights,” the website reads.

“I had helped to start SEAGLA, Southeast Alaska Gay and Lesbian Alliance here in 1985,”Sara Boesser of Juenau said. “I’d been active in setting up the organization here in Southeast, but when I went to the march on Washington (in 1987) I came back and was energized to be even more out and active.”

Sara’s activism branched out beyond helping to found SEAGLA, “Ever since then I’ve sort of been a go-to person — I’ve testified, I was the editor of a Southeast Alaska LGBT newsletter called Perspective for many years, one of the founding editors of that. And that was to let people know everything that was going on and political things they could get involved in. And everything that’s come before the legislature, my parents, Mark and Mildred both, and I, and people from around Southeast have testified. And through my Internet and newsletter work, I let people know what was happening and how they can get involved.”

PFLAG was started in Juneau in 1994, although it wasn’t official with the national organization until 1997. Marsha Buck was one of the founders, along with Mildred and Mark Boesser, Willie Anderson and Dixie Hood.

Buck said PFLAG provides “Support education and advocacy, support for LGBT people and their families, support for parents and family members, especially during coming out” and education for the public and advocacy.

PFLAG’s national website reads, “Founded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the original ally organization. Made up of parents, families, friends, and straight allies uniting with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education and advocacy.”

Buck said the group also has a lending library located in Willie’s garage, and gives out a scholarship each year.

Kathee Hayes started attending PFLAG with her daughter after her daughter came out in high school. She had just moved to Juneau with her daughter and started a new job when she came out.

“It was like my whole world was upside down because I didn’t know where that would lead her in life, or how easy or tough the road would be,” Kathee said, “I remember that I couldn’t make it through the full work day for several weeks, I would come home in the early afternoon and I had a rocking chair, and I would just rock and try to understand. I was in a new community, I knew nobody except my daughter, I didn’t have a support network. Finally, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing that could make my daughter not be loved and not be part of my life. Then I started going to PFLAG meetings with her.”

For Kathee, becoming an ally was a process, she said, “Each step opened my heart more and more to gay and lesbians, and especially to my daughter. It’s been a journey.”

Though she is no longer active in PFLAG and the group no longer holds regular meetings, Kathee said she is open to speaking with parents who might be struggling with a child’s coming out.

“If a parent comes to the realization that a child isn’t exactly who they thought they were, there’s this other aspect to their being, that can just be a tough one to wrap your thoughts around.”

And though the group doesn’t meet in person these days, they still have a help line available for community members to call — 463-4203.

A spin-off of PFLAG is the Pride Chorus.

“Sara Boesser and I are really the founding mothers of the Pride Chorus,” Buck said.

“Out of that time period, between when they changed the constitution, is when the pride chorus started,” Maureen “Mo” Longworth said, “There was such a despair... in gay and straight people.”

The Pride Chorus, which was imagined as a mixed chorus, ended up being a women’s chorus when no men showed up for the first few practices. The Chorus performs standalone concerts, but also has performed at events like World Aids Day, opening before the play “8” and at the Alaska Folk Festival each year.

“The good thing about that was that the Pride Chorus was born, and I think our chorus has helped to change hundreds of people in Juneau,” Mo said.

Mo’s partner Lin Davis finds the Pride Chorus to be an important piece of the community as well, “I think the music and the choruses, this is what the gay community has done to try to change people’s minds and hearts. Last summer we went to Denver for a festival of choruses from all over the country, and some were from Europe and Australia, and that was absolutely, I’m gonna cry, I can’t even put into words how inspiring that was and what the LGBT community has done with what we’ve been dealt.”

Also started with help from PFLAG were the Gay Straight Alliances at the high schools and at the university. Both Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain High Schools have a GSA.

“My graduating class was one of the biggest in a super long time, there were about seven or eight of us who were regulars for about three years, then we graduated and it kind of fizzled out, but there’s always a teacher rallying to get people involved,” Ricky Tagaban said of the GSA at JDHS.

Both Richard Carter and Rei Radford are currently active with the University of Alaska Southeast GSA. Devyn Reece and Ricky were involved in the past. Richard and Rei are President and Vice President respectively.

“I don’t know the history of the group at UAS very well, I just know that, from year to year, with people graduating and losing interest, that it stops very frequently, so I’m glad we’re on kind of a roll, at least these past few years,” Richard said. “On average, probably about 10 (people show up) each meeting. On a bad day we’ll have five, which is still quorum, so we can do business if we need to. We’ve got a ton of people who are technically in the group or on the facebook page, but don’t have time for the meetings.”

For Richard, one of the great things about being involved in the GSA is the people he’s met and interacted with, “I’ve met a lot of really nice people that are working with the Pride Foundation, The Juneau Suicide Prevention Task Force, PFLAG, SEAGLA, all of those groups and, honestly, it makes me happy to see other people happy to see the “safe zone” stickers around so they know it’s a safe space, even if it’s not a super active LGBT community on campus, they can at least no passively that there are allies.”

Richard is involved with “safe zone” trainings. A “safe zone” sticker in an office or space means “people who do have (the sticker) have been to the Safe Zone trainings, they know what to expect, maybe know a little more about the terminology and definitions, and they probably could direct you to, if it were a really dire situation, if you needed to be directed to a suicide hotline or myself or the advisor for the GSA, then someone who attends the trainings would know that.”

The group meets once a week on Thursdays, usually for an hour and a half. They cover business related to events they are planning, relevant topics in the news, and the meetings serve as social time.

Ricky said while he was involved “a lot of times it floundered, but we did stuff, like we called Lisa Murkowski’s office when there was something important we wanted her to vote on.”

One of the biggest GSA sponsored events is the Day of Silence/Night of Noise, held April 19 of this year.

“For the Day of Silence, you try to go for those hours, which seems like it could be easy, but it’s really hard,” Richard said, “Especially for me if I’m trying to run the event all day long. It’s basically in recognition of the bullying that happens in school. The Day of Silence is traditionally more of a high school event, I would say, than a college event, and UAS is so welcoming that it’s not even about UAS really, it’s about the rest of the nation, just saying even if someone isn’t being bullied here, that you can see first-hand that it does exist.”

And for the night of noise, students headed to the Noyes Pavillion on campus.

“We’re trying to start this tradition of the Night of Noise at the Noyes Pavillion, kind of a play on words, up at UAS. Last year we had a bonfire and smores, we had more face paints out if people were interested — it was kind of a face paint day — we had a banner that people could sign or put handprints on, and it was also open mic, so we had people read poetry and people sing, we had a DJ and it was all about just being open and sharing with your community. And I didn’t know that there is supposed to be a communal scream, so if we go until midnight this year, we’ll probably scream — I think that’ll be a big stress reliever for people with finals coming up. A fun night when people can eat chocolate and scream,” Richard explained in a March interview.

SEAGLA, PFLAG, the Pride Chorus and GSAs are the major groups providing support and events in town, but there was definitely an interest in expanding opportunities among those interviewed.

“I would be happy if there were a bigger community. And I know that there are more than I think, but I feel we should have more public organizations. I know PFLAG’s all over Alaska, everywhere, and we have our GSA, but I think there should be more out there,” Rei said.

Kimberly Hubbard Crawford was very passionate about building up the community, “Coming from Anchorage where there is a pretty inclusive gay community, I would say that Juneau, in the coming future, I would like to see a few things happen. I would like to see a gay community center that is for kids and teens, most importantly, and also everyone could go to just that center. I think that is something that Juneau is lacking.”

Many agreed that a physical space would be a boon to the community, and most had ideas about how the community could be more connected and more active, and how more needs might be met. For the younger people interviewed, those in their teens through 30s, there was a desire for more face-to-face interaction.

“I can remember as a teen looking up to anybody that I thought was possibly gay, you know, oh, look at this amazing person,” Kimberly said, “I really think that setting a healthy example is a huge part of what should be in communities.”

When PFLAG stopped meeting regularly, it was said to be because members were too busy. Attending a SEAGLA get-together at Jaded Lounge one Friday night, the consensus among some of the attendees was that communication and fellowship was achieved largely via the Internet.

But young people say they want more.

“I think technology is not good enough, we need the human interaction,” Ricky said. “When I was in high school there was a senior, and I don’t know if he was openly gay, but I remember the way he carried himself and I remember him being a super good role model.”

Rei conjectured “I know at least 10 percent of the population is gay, and I think it would help that 10 percent of Juneau if we were all aware of each other.”

He continued, “A lot of these people who run the organizations who are older, I think when you’re older you have less of a need to have your self esteem re-affirmed and to know you are loved, but when I was younger I would have killed for the opportunity to have friends who were going through the same things as me, and understood how I was feeling.”

In Anchorage, the 4A’s seems to be the central organizer of the LGBTQ community. In Juneau, the organization’s presence is more limited, with only one person staffing the office, focused mostly on case management, community service, HIV prevention and testing.

4A’s in Juneau does have a couple major events each year, though. There is a vigil for World AIDS Day Dec. 1 each year, last year a related film was shown at the Gold Town Nickelodeon, and Richard said, “this last December the UAS GSA had a bake sale and we donated 50 percent of the proceeds to 4A’s. We did do World Aids Day the year prior and we put up fact sheets around campus with different myths and fixing them, like you can’t contract HIV from a bite or from spit, it’s usually from blood or needle sharing, things like that.”

Starting today and through the weekend is Femme Fatale, the annual drag show and fundraiser — with all proceeds staying in Southeast Alaska.

Femme Fatale runs May 2-4 this year, with amateur night tonight, Thursday, at 9 p.m. at the Rendezvous and performances with Anchorage queens and kings Friday at 9 p.m. at the Rendezvous and Saturday at 7 and 10 p.m. at the Baranof Hotel.

Devyn will perform at Femme Fatale, at least on Thursday, this year. He made his drag debut last year at the event.

“I saw my first drag queen in Denver,” Devyn said. “It totally shook my world up.”

Two years ago, he said he saw fliers for the show but didn’t go, then last year he went all out and “had a blast.”

For him it is all about the stage presence, playing a different character and the confidence.

“The biggest misconception is that we have some desire to be female or that being in drag is a turn-on — that’s not true,” Devyn said. “I’ve never wanted to be female, it’s strictly for the performance aspect, for entertainment value. Just from that one show we did last year, it opened a whole new platform for creativity.”

Devyn is on the 4A’s board and is active in helping with the events, in addition to performing.

He is also on the board for the City and Borough of Juneau Human Rights Commission, an organization with a broader scope than some of the others mentioned.

The next HRC event is the fourth I Am Juneau potluck picnic to be held at Sandy Beach, Savikko Park shelter No. 1 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 11. All of Juneau is invited to attend the event and everyone is encouraged to bring a favorite dish to share. The event is free and family friendly, with the goal of celebrating Juneau’s diversity.

SEAGLA and PFLAG hold some joint events, including a highway cleanup in May and a Pride Picnic in June.

Devyn is planning to have a float in the Fourth of July parade this year. Last year there was a small group of people, but he is hoping for a bigger turnout and a standout float this year.

Sonja Haselton is enthusiastic about groups and individuals alike being more out and open.

“You can’t be quiet about it,” she said.

Sonja said the first step is coming out, then getting the LGBTQ community involved in the rest of the community more, the problem is not going to go away until they start opening up to the public, the public needs to know what’s going on.”

Many of these groups host events and provide support and information, but there’s sometimes still a question of where to find services.

Rei mentioned seeking doctors and lawyers who were “trans-friendly” and Sonja mentioned in an interview that she would like to see safe houses available, since issues like domestic violence are not exclusive to heterosexual relationships.

“I’d like everyone to know Planned Parenthood has services for LGBT youth. I just always want people to know there is something out there. The opposition will always try to make you feel alone,” Rei said.

She thinks the best way to build up and share resources and to enrich the LGBTQ community is to network, to build “a strong LGBT community, because we have resources.”

For more information or to get involved, there are a number of sites and resources:

 

Local resources

 

Information and support

SEAGLA: Visit seagla.org

PFLAG: Visit seagla.org/pflag or call 463-4203

GSAs: Visit seagla.org/gsa or ask about meetings with student activities

Safe Zone: Look for stickers at the University in offices of counselors, advisers, faculty and staff

Alaska Youth information: visit iknowmine.org

 

Services and support

4A’s: Visit alaskanaids.org

Planned Parenthood: Visit plannedparenthood.org or visit the Juneau Health Center at 3231 Glacier Highway

AWARE: Visit awareak.org

Alaska Legal Services: Visit alsc-law.org

 

A quick search of the internet can provide endless resources for LGBTQ information, services and support beyond this non-exhaustive list.

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