Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Queer Youth's Right to Pride - update

Queer Youth’s Right to Pride
By Margot Kelley

As many of you are most likely aware, San Diego LGBT Pride has enacted a new policy that will significantly diminish the opportunity for youth to attend the Pride Festival this year. The policy, as approved by the Board of Directors, states: “All persons 17 and under must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian in order to enter the annual San Diego LGBT Pride Festival.”

Many people in our community are outraged. First, this policy denies youth access to the most important event of the year. I came out at 14 years old, volunteered at my first San Diego Pride festival at 15, and was honored to receive Pride’s Community Service Award in 1996 - at the age of 17. My involvement with Pride provided me opportunities I did not know existed - from attending the NGLTF Youth Leadership Institute, to finding a mentor who helped me apply (and get into) the University of California, at Berkeley. My involvement with Pride opened up a future that I had not thought possible. If this policy had been in place when I was growing up - none of this would have transpired.

Second, think about how this policy reflects upon the LGBT community as a whole. This policy implies that young people are somehow less safe among our community than among general society. Are we the predators and the perverts the right wing has been calling us all along? The last thing we want to do is give the religious right a weapon to use against us - and this policy provides them with just the ammunition they are looking for. They can point to this policy and say, “See? Even the GAYS know they can’t be trusted around kids!!!”

Once the Dobsons, the Hartlines, and the Hedgecocks get a hold of this policy (and it’s only a matter of time) the damage to San Diego Pride and the GLBTQ community could be devastating. They will create a media feeding frenzy - and they could even go as far as petitioning the city to stop hosting the Festival at all.

Third, aside from the political implications of the policy -- what about the legal ramifications? How exactly can Pride enforce this policy? This policy would force Pride to check every single person’s identification before entering the festival. In any organization, once a policy has been written - it is the legal responsibility of the organization to enforce it. Think about the resources, planning, and training it would take to enforce this policy.

In addition, the term “guardian” has a very special and distinct meaning within the legal system - and the relationship must be approved by a court of law. Pride is opening itself up to all kinds of liability issues just by putting a policy like this into place. Each guardian would have to show documented proof of their relationship to the youth and would have to be educated on their legal responsibilities.

Many in the GLBTQ community see this policy as discriminatory and hurtful. This policy not only hurts our youth, but it taints the image of our community as a whole - leaving us vulnerable legally and politically. We’ve collected over 600 signatures so far, some on paper, and the rest at:
http://www.petitiononline.com/sd06prd/petition.html. People who have signed the petition and have lent their support include members of the Unitarian Universalist Church, PFLAG, GYA, UCSD and SDSU GLBTQ organizations, GSDBA, the Leather Community, Dyke March and VAGINA organizers, J*Pride, Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, and the Imperial Court.

We made a presentation to the Pride Board at their last open meeting and met with them again on Thursday, May 26th. They are not willing to repeal this policy - even when we presented them with an alternative: For this year, repeal this policy and institute a Youth Buddy Service. Emily Foster, another long-term youth activist, and I volunteered to coordinate this Service. We would station two volunteers between the ages of 18-24 at the Festival gate who would serve as a welcoming committee to persons who are younger than 21. Youth would be informed that Pride wants them to enjoy the festival and feel comfortable and safe at all times.

This welcoming committee would inform youth of the safe people to contact in case of any uncomfortable situation, the location of First Aid and the Youth Xone, along with other service areas. With two volunteers available at all times, one volunteer could break away to hang out with someone who came to the festival without friends and give them a tour of the festival grounds, introducing them to new friends their age. This welcoming committee would give Pride the ability to help each individual young person build a safety support network for themselves.

At the May 26th meeting, we became increasingly aware of how little thought the Pride Board put into real-life impacts of this policy. As of last Thursday, there is still no concrete plan in place to enforce the policy, nor has ANY plan been developed to create an alternative space that youth would even WANT to go to. We found out that they have been talking about this policy at their meetings since January. While some on the Board did express real concern for the safety of youth at the Festival, the fact that little to no effort has been expended to create a viable, exciting and attractive alternative for youth only points to their true motivation for this policy - they are more concerned about liability than about the youth themselves. When presented with the possible scenario of a youth convincing an adult stranger to "stand in" as a guardian in order to enter the Festival and then being hurt in some way by this adult, the response reflected only self-interest on the part of the Board. They said that, in that case, if the youth brought a lawsuit, the case against Pride would be weakened because the youth was the one who sought out the adult and undermined the policy... so much for caring about the youth.

We brought up that other Pride Festivals around the country don’t have policies such as this one in place. Their response was that most festivals don’t charge admission, and since San Diego’s festival is a private event, the liability falls on them. They responded that the board, “as an entity, in its official capacity” was not aware of this liability until this year. How do other venues charge admission but allow all ages to enter without "parents or guardians" in attendance deal with this liability? What’s the difference between the Del Mar Fair and the Pride Festival? Concert venues? Amusement Parks? Wouldn’t the liability be the same?

Pride is still promoting itself as an “all-inclusive” family event - which is misleading since a major segment of our community (in fact the FUTURE of our community) will not be able to attend - unless they are literally baby-sat by their own parents. It seems the mission of Pride is no longer about celebrating the diversity of our community - it’s about raising money - even at the expense of our community’s future.

Pride’s message to all GLBTQ youth is "Sorry, but you are too much a liability for us so we will have to turn you away." I don’t know about you, but I avoid places where I am not welcome - and that is the message Pride is sending to everyone under 18. It’s hard enough to be out and gay and under 18 - and then to watch your own community abandon you just adds to the feelings of isolation and despair. Our youth, and our community, deserve better than this.

Voice your opposition to this policy by contacting the San Diego LGBT Pride Board of Directors at
info@sdpride.org or call them at 619-297-7683. Also, sign the petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/sd06prd/petition.html.



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