We recently went to the 15th anniversary celebration of the local GLBT Partnership here in Appleton. It’s an amazing thing, really: a small group of people decided to create a safe space for LGBTQ teenagers here in the Fox Valley in 1997 because there were no existing support groups or safe gathering places for them.
They still struggle for funding, so if you want to help out queer youth who actually need the help – and are living in a place that isn’t very queer friendly – this is a great way to do it. You have to go to this PayPal account – under SKenevan’s name – and in the memo line indicate that it’s for the GLBT Partnership. Honestly: this group is tiny and very, very necessary. (Feel free to tell them I sent you if you do donate!)
One of the group’s founding members, Shannon Kenevan, who was honored at the celebration, wrote this piece about the group:
The Fox Valley GLBT Partnership is turning 15 years old this fall. For those of you under age 30, you probably don’t remember a time in your life that the Partnership did not exist. It’s always been there to offer weekly support and leadership development to youth ages 14-18 who identify as LGBTQ, as well awareness and educational programs for the rest of our community. Those over age 30 may remember back to their teenage years when there were no groups like the Partnership.
For all of us, it is easy to take for granted all the Partnership has offered our community these past 15 years. More than 2,000 youth have been served directly by the Partnership during this time, and many have been touched in ways we’ll never know. There are youth and adults in our community right now who would not be alive today had it not been for the Partnership.
About 10 years ago, there were no GSA’s in northeast Wisconsin. Youth who learned leadership skills within the GLBT Partnership helped start all of those initial GSA’s – leading the way in their schools, often despite resistance from the adult school leaders.
Partnership youth have taken leadership, too, in creating six years of Pride Prom, eight years of Day of Silence/Night of Noise events, and four years of World AIDS Day events.
About 10 years ago, there were also no LGBT Centers in northeast Wisconsin. Youth involved with the GLBT Partnership helped start up Harmony Café, which now serves as LGBT Community Centers in both Appleton and Green Bay.
The Harmony Cafés are a different kind of LGBT Center – one that intentionally doesn’t just “preach to the choir.” There is huge power in offering safe space 100-plus hours per week and LGBT-specific groups and programs such as GLBT Partnership, Spectrum and P-FLAG, but then also offering food and drink, meeting rooms, Open Mic nights and dozens of other programs that appeal to the general public.
Back in the 1990s, we talked a lot about the “movable middle.” At that time, it was commonly understood that about 10% of the population was 100% “pro-LGBT” and was never going to change. At the same time, it was understood that another 10% of the population was 100% “anti-LGBT” and was never going to change. And the other 80% was somewhere in the middle.
The theory of “movable middle” is that the 80% may shift one direction or another, based on their peers, experiences, education, etc. Each year, the shift has been moving in the direction of more people being supportive of LGBT rights and equality, and we have seen that in national polls and votes on same sex marriage. Safe spaces like Harmony Café are particularly good at gently introducing folks in the “movable middle” to people who identify as LGBT and increasing awareness about LGBT issues in ways that typical LGBT Centers are unable to do.
After 15 years of doing such great things in our community, often despite passionate and unfriendly opposition, the Partnership is poised to accomplish even more amazing things during the next 15 years. Three up-and-coming young leaders are now leading the Appleton and Green Bay Partnership programs and Harmony Cafés. They have great passion for working with youth, a wonderful spirit of collaboration and authenticity, and a creative desire to make our little part of the world a better, safer, more vibrant place.