In 2008, friends and advocates Carol Lewis and Nancy Brown recognized a problem. Nancy, then-facilitator of the Fairfax support group of PFLAG Metro DC, had noted that many high schools offered space and time to LGBTQ youth by way of a gay-straight alliance (GSA). But this time and space was absent at the middle-school level.
Within a year, Carol had become a co-facilitator of the Fairfax group when a father attended a meeting to find a space for his gay son, who had come out in middle school only to be deserted by his friends. This confirmed for Carol that she needed to put together a youth group.
Carol turned to her own son Ted Lewis, current Director of LGBTQ Life at the University of Richmond. Ted had volunteered extensively for Time Out Youth in North Carolina. TOY, founded in 1991 as an LGBTQ youth organization, employs an executive director and a part-time staff.
“Steve Bentley, the exec, sent me their facilitator’s manual and code of conduct and ethical principles,” recalls Carol. Carol also contacted the Associate Director for LGBTQ Resources at George Mason University to line up some facilitators. Carol then did a letter campaign, writing to local school principals, GSA directors, and healthcare professionals to alert them to her group and ask that they consider the group as a potential resource. With people and policies in place, the first gathering of the Western Fairfax Youth Meeting took place on February 2, 2010.
“Clumsy name but it was a start.” Carol explains, “Later the kids changed it to FLY: Fairfax LGBTQ Youth.”
Carol organized FLY meetings to concur with her regular support meetings, the first Tuesday of every month. The kids meet separately from the adults, though a major strength of the youth group is that the adults are willing to listen and be flexible.
“The kids wanted to meet twice a month so they started meeting on the 3rd Sunday afternoon,” said Carol. “Then the kids said FLY would be better attended if the adult group met then too, so we did that.”After experimenting with different meeting days, FLY took off when it organized its second meeting as a teen lounge that meets on the third Friday of every month. FLY teen lounge alternates as a pizza and movie night held in a local church and a hangout at an outside venue, usually a coffee shop in nearby Vienna.
“On the whole, we get more kids at lounges than at meetings, usually five or so at meetings, eight to ten at lounges,“ explained Carol. A pottery night attracted the most kids. “We tried ice skating—two kids—and once at a local decorate your own pottery place, which was hugely successful, 19 kids.”
Carol concludes, “FLY provides educational opportunities, but more often than not, the kids just want to talk. They really sort of take over! We've done healthy relationships (HIV/STIs safe sex), mental health, yoga, stress, LGBTQ colleges, LGBTQ history, coming out. But if the kids want to talk, the facilitators are willing to scrap the program. My original intent was for FLY to be a safe place where LGBTQ kids and allies could meet, be together in a confidential environment, and socialize. If we provide some education, that's all to the good, but it's their meeting.“
PFLAG National is grateful to PFLAG Metro DC and the Fairfax group for all their work to put together FLY. If your chapter is interested in learning more about how to work effectively and safely with LGBTQ youth in your own community, please Field Manager Cesar Hernandez.