Oh, to be a kid again in the summertime. Growing up, knowing that we had a three month break from major responsibilities was a wonderful thing. Summer meant more time with friends, being able to sleep in late, and being able to participate in activities that silly things like school stood in the way of. For many youth, summer also meant being able to get away from our families and head to camp. Heading out into the woods for a few days is a rite of passage for many, but when you already feel different, it could be a less than positive experience. For more than 5 years, Identity Inc's Alaska Youth Leadership Summit has been working to change that.
Identity states that “the purpose of the 2018 Alaska Youth Leadership Summit is to create a community of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer + (LGBTQ) youth and their allies. The Summit includes workshops and trainings to educate youth on healthy life skills and relationships, develop leadership skills, and empower youth to be change agents in their communities.”
Brooks Banker of Identity also stresses that while the kids are there they will also have a chance to work on connectivity and socialization. Many of the participants are from Anchorage and the surrounding areas, but there is also a scholarship and travel for youth from more rural communities in Alaska, that don't always have the same opportunities as others.
For the kids themselves, while they are learning they also get to have a lot of fun. This year, 27 kids from age 13-18 will be attending from August 10-13th. Callie Little-Davis is attending for what will be her final year. At 18 years old they are aging out, but have fond memories of summits past. “The ride there is sort of awkward, not everyone knows each other, but by the end of the weekend everyone is best friends, and you can tell by the energy on the ride home.” Little-Davis enjoys being in a place where they are learning and also able to be vulnerable. During a summit that was held earlier this year, she participated in a workshop on micro-aggressions, where the attendees wrote out, and spoke about the issue, and eventually burned those that had been written. “The feeling of support, nobody was looking down on each other, everyone was supporting each other no matter what. We were all lifting each other up.”
This is the same type of feeling that 15 year old Jeremiah Freeman has, when he speaks about how open everyone was when he started attending. “It's a really welcoming community. You get friends instantly. I was nervous and quiet, but by the next day, it felt like we had known each other for years.” Freeman says that he has memory issues, but a recent class he took has stuck with him more than others. QPR Suicide Prevention. With the rates of suicide being so high for LGBTQ+ identified youth, it is a timely topic for these young people to be discussing, and will be offered at the summit this month as well.
Summer camp would not be complete without arts and crafts and a talent show, and the Identity Youth Summit will have those as well, with a twist. Inupiaq artist Jenny Miller will be hosting a workshop featuring her photographs of indigenous 2 spirit individuals, and photographer Maxwell Poth of Project Contrast, a project started to combat suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth, will be returning after 6 months. Poth previously attended a summit and photographed attendees. The youth will be encouraged to create their own art in several mediums.
On the final night of camp there is a talent show and a bonfire. Freeman has decided that he is going to be performing drag, and while he has a character, he is still working out the details. Little-Davis has performed in the talent shows before, as well as YAS, Youth Arts Showcase, and while she is known for her ASL performances, she has something different up her sleeve for her last time out.
Matthew Marchand, known onstage as Glitter Twink is attending his last summit also, but not because he is aging out, but because his family is moving at the end of the month. “I really love the opportunity, that there is a camp where I am fully accepted and respected” and while he is going to miss the friends he has made here in Alaska, he has learned many skills that will help him in the future. “It's a really good way to learn how to be a leader in your community, and deal with situations you may not know how to deal with”
The Identity Alaska Youth Leadership Summit is giving young people in Alaska more than just a weekend where they can be their authentic selves, and really live their truths. It is creating a foundation for the future leaders of the country with life skills and coping mechanisms that will benefit our entire community for years to come.