Bearing Witness: LGBTQ youth of color take center stage

Performers after the Bearing Witness showcase last June.


Seattle Parks is on a mission – a mission to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) teens of color have the same opportunities for self-expression that other kids do.

Randy Wiger, who runs Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Parks Commons Program, believes that LGBTQ teens and LGBTQ Youth of Color have fewer choices to participate in programs and services because they don’t feel safe in most traditional programs. And the data says he’s right.

A 2011 Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network survey showed that 59% of students statewide reported hearing racist comments.  Ninety percent reported hearing homophobic remarks.  Ninety-four percent of students reported hearing the word “gay” used in a negative way.

Schools are considered as safe spaces when students aren’t caused physical harm.

“But does that make them emotionally safe?” Wiger asked.

Seattle Parks and Recreation with Wiger’s guidance is exploring that question. Community centers have had programing specifically for girls, boys, teens and Youth of Color for years, but until recently, none were focused on LGBTQ Teens or on LGBTQ Youth of Color.

“How many LGBTQ teens are picking and choosing programs based on how safe they feel in that environment?” Wiger said. “Our thinking is that we should engage this population — especially in forward-thinking Seattle, and especially in Parks and Recreation where we encounter so many young people.”

In partnership with Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, Wiger launched the Seattle Quare Arts Project last spring and hired Recreation Leader Rodney Greene to assist.

The word “quare” means excellence and identifies exceptional and remarkable experiences and individuals. The Seattle Quare Arts Project encourages LGBTQ Youth of Color to be the best persons they can be. It’s a mentored performing arts program that provides assistance in designing and implementing performing arts events such as dance, musical presentations and poetry slams. At the end of the program, the students perform in a showcase titled “Bearing Witness”.

“The program helps youth see that people just like them are succeeding as artists, and it allows kids to be in an environment that fosters their talents,” Greene said.

The program accepts teens of all performance levels and each participant receives a $50 stipend for participating in the showcase. Additionally, the program hires up to six LGBTQ Youth of Color or Allies to do peer outreach.

“It’s important for marginalized people to be the center of something,” Chad Goller-Sojourner said. “It allows them to try new things.” Goller-Sojourner is a Seattle-based Performing Artist of Color whose recent shows “Riding in Cars with Black People” and “Sitting in Circles with Rich White Girls” have received strong reviews and toured college campuses.  He has served as a Creative Mentor for the program since the first round of the program.

The Seattle Quare Arts Project is currently in its third session. This spring’s showcase will be at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 18, at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.

“Some people have been waiting their whole lives for a stage,” said Goller-Sojourner said, “We open the doors, and just let them go.”

For more information on the showcase, click HERE.