May 8, 2022—As I am sure you are aware, there recently has been a nationwide flood of unjust and dehumanizing legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community, especially youth. I am proud that the LGBT Employee Resource Group at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center decided to utilize the NJPAC Standing in Solidarity platform to curate a program giving voice to youth who identify as either bisexual, gender non-conforming or transgender; youth who are being profoundly impacted by this onslaught of injustice.
The NJPAC program, “Don’t Silence Us: LGBTQ+ Youth Speak Out,” was sponsored by the PSEG True Diversity Film Series, and held in commemoration of the 2022 National Day of Silence (April 22), the annual student-led vow of silence to protest harassment of LGBTQ+ people. The Day of Silence is coordinated nationally by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
Registrants were urged to screen in advance the powerful documentary, A Road to Home. The film, which still can be viewed via the free public library streaming platform Kanopy, tracks the lives of six homeless LGBTQ youth, who have been rejected by their families. According to the filmmakers, this typifies the experience of an estimated half-million homeless youth, 40-percent of whom are LGBTQ+.
The “Don’t Silence Us” panel was moderated by E. Bradshaw, an actor, writer, director, teacher, and NJPAC’s Director of Theater Arts Education. The courageous panelists—Bennet, Jenae, and Courtney—detailed their experiences, including how they define themselves, the importance of identity and expression. Each of them credited the support they received from their families and extended community, which they said allowed them to come out and have their identities affirmed. They also shared how alliances at schools and arts circles, such as the Kiki Scene, made them feel comfortable, seen and heard.
Most important, I think, were the lessons the panelists provided the viewers about allyship: the importance of learning people’s preferred pronouns and using them; listening to Queer voices and including them in the conversation, as well as being engaged in LGBTQ+ issues beyond Pride Month.
Bennet, Jenae and Courtney also shared their vision for a more LGBTQ+, youth-friendly future, which they said included cisgender people recognizing and helping LGBTQ+ youth in authentic and consistent ways; a world where LGBTQ+ youth don’t have to worry about their safety and well-being.
The audience was responsive and utilized the chat function of Zoom to share messages of support and encouragement, including reminding the youth to take care of themselves and continue to share their stories throughout the larger community.