Juneau Youth Center Pride Party Creates Needed Space for LGBTQ+ Youth

Youth at the Zach Gordon Youth Center Pride Party earlier this month. (Photo by Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO)

It’s been a tough two years for LGBTQ+ youth who come to the Zach Gordon Youth Center in Juneau.

“We’ve seen significant mental health issues, like kids struggling to stay in school, struggling to maintain relationships and taking care of themselves,” said coordinator Ty Shae. of the youth program for the Zach. “And I think the kids are just going through some really dark stuff…And they’re really trying their best, but like, it’s hard out there.”

The Youth Center is a place where young people in Juneau can go and socialize or play games. It also offers support services, such as help finding employment and housing. And with activities like the chess club and karaoke night, it’s a special space for Juneau’s gay kids.

This was the third year the center hosted an in-person Youth Pride Party. This is one of the events that kick off Pride Month in Juneau. About 65 children showed up on June 4 with pride flags painted on their faces or draped over their shoulders. There were games and dancing through the arch of rainbow balloons at the front door.

But the event came amid a slew of nationwide anti-LGBTQ laws, including a bill in Alaska that would have banned trans girls from playing on women’s sports teams if passed. .

“I think it’s important to recognize that the general messaging in the world right now isn’t very inclusive for trans youth, in particular,” Shae said. “And even though it doesn’t have a direct impact on those kids, like even though the trans kids that we see don’t play sports or anything, that’s still a very hard message to hear.”

Ty Shae, Zach Gordon Youth Center Program Coordinator. (Photo by Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO)

Lee Orocco came to the party with a non-binary heart sticker on his face.

“We need a lot more safe spaces. For gay people in Juneau, especially children,” Orocco said. “Because all year round most of the gay spaces are adult-only because they look like drag shows in bars, which is kind of frustrating.”

Grayson Ashley agreed that the lack of LGBTQ+ events for young people seems limited.

“I think kids aren’t able to express themselves as often as most adults,” they said.

It makes events like these all the more impactful by showing LGBTQ youth in Juneau that there is a place for them, they said.

The rest of this month has seven other Pride events, and some are all-ages, but the Zach Gordon Center party is the only event that’s aimed solely at young people.