Welcome to the first of many musings on the history of the Out & Allied Youth Project.
In the fall of 2007 I attended a State Summit on all things LGBTQ in Maine. An amazing young man who worked at the Lewiston LGBTQ outreach center said something I can only paraphrase now, but it was formative. There were 50 or 70 (it’s been a few years…) people who had a chance to say who they were, what they were doing to support LGBTQ youth (adult advocacy was sent to another room), and what they thought the top issue was.
He said that what he’d like to see less of is THE PROBLEMS of LGBTQ youth, and more of THE STRENGTHS.
If you look at what the Search Institute has researched and published about this very thing in their 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents, you’ll see he was on to the heart of the matter. Intervention and support services are important for survival; having what you need to thrive is strength-based.
I sat down with Tess Van Horn, Add Verb’s then AmeriCorps*Vista Volunteer, and we started to map a theatre project that would be about-by-and-with youth, what has become the Out & Allied Youth Project . We put out an all-call for submissions, planned for writing and devising workshops, recruited editors for the works in progress, and aimed at producing performance that would celebrate youth strengths, resilience, and innovation. Add Verb’s work has always centred on engaging bystanders, asking them to stand with those who are experiencing oppression so it was very important that the project not only be open to LGBTQ participants but would involve allies. Straight allies need to be cultivated and taught how to be better allies, and become aware of how much it can mean to someone to offer a word of support, an ear or arm-in-arm solidarity.
Tess was charged with launching the project and ultimately directing the very first production which can be seen in the work captured by MTV Youth documentarian Jamie McLeod.
Jennifer Hodsdon was retained as a teaching artist to conduct workshop in several rural locations around Maine. With an assist from Betsey Parsons, a co-director of GLSEN Southern Maine, this first production had the honor of debuting for GLSEN’s national summit of Chapter Leaders July 2008, and that fall won the Maine League of Young Voter‘s Award for Best Youth Start-Up.