For the queer community, June is a time of inclusion, affirmation, and celebration. However, the majority of Pride-themed events are aimed at folks over the age of 21. A network of advisors for LGBTQIA+ clubs in local middle and high schools realized they could do something about this– and thus Whatcom Youth Pride (WYP) was born.
WYP is an organization that provides queer youth with a safe and affirming space in which to gather, celebrate, and thrive. Their major annual event, a youth-oriented Pride parade, will take place this year on June 4.
After a pandemic-induced hiatus, WYP is coming back bigger and better than ever. Board Member Holly Tobosa says a number of LGBTQIA+-supportive community organizations will be present, and the event will also include music, food trucks, a craft space, an art market, and even a youth makerspace.
All of these festivities are facilited by a board of diverse individuals, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA+ club advisors, parents, community members, and Queer Youth Project advocates through Northwest Youth Services. The members are united over a desire to create a space in which queer young people can fully be themselves.
Following the first-ever WYP event in 2019, Board Member Bethany Barrett notes that the group was “blown away” by the outpouring of support and love from the community. Local businesses such as Homeskillet, WinkWink Boutique, and Cafe Velo were excited by the opportunity to show support for the community’s queer youth. In addition, many queer adults made a point to an express how witnessing such an event in their youth would have been life-changing.
“These statements came through over and over– for weeks, months, years after that event,” she says. “The truth is, we all need this kind of celebration. It’s the kind of thing that heals and rewrites the painful histories many of us have had.”
WYP provides a necessary space for young people to embrace who they are, whether or not they are “out” to their peers at school. After an isolating pandemic– and given the disproportionate rates of issues such as suicidal ideation and homelessness among queer youth– events that facilitate joy and healing are deeply important. As Board Member Hannah Gough notes, “we must be careful to ensure that we are not teaching youth and their families that queerness is synonymous with struggle.”
“As a community, it is our job to stand up and be loudly supportive and accepting and loving of LGBTQIA+ youth so they can grow as themselves,” says Board Member Rax Organa. “The Whatcom Youth Pride Parade and Festival is a really concrete way to demonstrate to the next generation how much they are loved and accepted, and that there is a whole community of adults willing to stand up and let them be who they are.”
While the parade is WYP’s main focus, Tobosa notes that the organization plans to have a presence at other community events throughout the year. These include the Birchwood International Market, Roll Out! Pop Up Outdoor Skating at Whatcom Middle School, and Juneteenth.
All this is just the beginning when it comes to supporting queer youth– and there are a myriad of ways to uphold the ideals of Pride throughout June and beyond. The board encourages community members to not only show up at the event, but to show up and speak up for LGBTQIA+ young people in their own lives.
“Educate yourself about queer youth and the issues they face in their communities. Support businesses and organizations that openly and authentically honor queer people. Listen well to those in your life who have experiences they want to talk about,” advises Barrett. “June is Pride month…but LGBTQIA+ people deserve love, belonging, and full inclusion in all spaces all year long.” Bellingham, whatcomyouthpride.com