We can all remember what it was like to be young. For some, it may be harder than others (don't worry I'm not naming names). But for those who grew up around the Indianapolis Area as a "Queer Youth," we were luckier than most. We knew of at least one safe place that we could go without being judged, persecuted or fearful of violence based on our newly found sexual identity: IYG - The Indiana Youth Group. Whether you were gay, lesbian, bi, transgendered, questioning, or "just a friend of so-and-so," IYG played an important role in thousands of queer adolescents growing up to be well adjusted members in our society today. They provide a number of resources, such as sex education and career development, not to mention hosting events like Gay Prom to make youth feel included and accepted.
There's just one problem with IYG - and its not the youths' obsession with painting everything in rainbow colors (hey - It actually works for them!). More and more GLBT kids are coming out of the closet every day - and at younger ages. What was considered "young" back when I came out a decade ago at 15 pales in comparison to the growing number of pre-teens that walk out of the closet and through their door. As we fight to make sexual orientation and gender identity something in which to be proud instead of guilty, IYG is forced to deal with the consequences; they're flooded with youth seeking a place of acceptance that is still not possible at home or at school. Don't get me wrong - this is great that so many young members of society are wasting no time breaking down that closet door. But IYG needs help - your help - now more than ever!
More after the jump
I remember being "The Gay Kid" in high school. I paraded down the halls wearing my own line of clothing, made from scratch on my grandma's 1970 singer sowing machine and decked out head-to-toe with rainbows. I look back at pictures taken of me then and wonder "What was I thinking?!" It was only natural that when I got my driver's license I would end up at IYG. Every week or so, I would pile as many of my friends that I could in my 1990 Chevrolet and take off down I-69, continuing "gayly forward" down Binford Blvd/Fall Creek until we saw the bright rainbow flag in the window of the house on 46th and Fall Creek marking our arrival to IYG.
Though I was only an "active" member of IYG for a few months, I have nothing but positive memories of my time at the IYG house. Having a chance to give back to a group that did so much for me and continues to do so much for countless others - it's a win-win situation for everyone involved when you volunteer for IYG.
At the start of April, a (very beautiful and young-looking) co-worker of mine proposed that our company's GLBT affinity group should start volunteering regularly at IYG. In no time at all, she had coordinated with the staff at IYG for members from our group to bring dinner/snacks to the youth once a month. Simple Enough... Once a month, one of us volunteers to deliver enough food to feed 5-20 people.
With the advent of GFS, even the most unsuccessful cook can become a gourmet chef for relatively little $$$. I brought dinner one night last month - spent approx $25-30 and was able to serve up a huge pan of lasagna and mac&cheese (for the vegetarians) with only a couple hours invested. Everyone talks about how it's the small things - well, this is one of those "small things" that will make a lot of people feel appreciated and loved. Our group has only hosted two dinners so far, but you'd be hard to find someone who would question their success.
For those of us in the group wanting to get more involved with IYG, such as volunteering to help out at the IYG house, providing supervision during events or hanging out with the youth during nightly Open Hours, a short training was offered by the staff at IYG. We were lucky enough to host two IYG staff last Friday to expedite our status as volunteers, but anyone can schedule an appointment for their own training by contacting the IYG office.
The training lasted about 90 minutes and went over some of their history and the major rules/guidelines we were expected to follow: such as not counseling the youth (leave that to the counselors) or ensuring there was no alcohol on our breath when at IYG - apparently the youth can smell it. Though some of them seemed more logical than others, their "rules to volunteer" are to ensure the most positive, constructive environment they can - making all the rules easy to follow and worthwhile. After a $15 background check and the training is complete, you'll be able to provide the most needed resource to IYG: a positive role-model for the queer youth of Indiana.
If chaperoning 10-20 teenagers or providing food once a month sounds like more than you can commit, IYG utilizes a large assortment of goods. They operate a food bank, so all non-perishable groceries are welcome, but please call IYG before bringing those 28 bottles of ketchup you couldn't afford not to buy at Costco last week (Some items they already have more than enough.) Since teens are notorious for short attention spans - donate that rusty Nintendo Wii or some gay/trans-positive movies. IYG also participates in the yearly Woodruff Place Neighborhood Rummage Sale - so they are always looking for gently used, big-ticket items that they can sell to raise money for more programs. Check out their wish list to see what you can help with.
Whatever it is - whether it's time, service, food, or even stuff you no longer want - IYG can put all of these things to use providing a safe place for all "queer" adolescents, even the straight ones. Just because we've won marriage equality in five states or you have a job that practically encourages you to be gay, it doesn't mean coming out at 14 is any easier. In order to continue fighting for our rights to provide true equality for all LGBT individuals - young and old - we need the younger generation to grow up happy and healthy. Show the youth of IYG that when we come together as a community, anything is possible.
Those interested in helping the the next generation of the greater Indianapolis GLBT community, please go to indianayouthgroup.org.