Neutral Zone helps LGBT youth tell their stories
Sixty youth from southeast Michigan’s seven counties were able to tell their stories through Queer Youth Stories, a digital storytelling and dialogue project for Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) in southeast Michigan.
With grant support from The HOPE Fund at CFSEM and the support of the Michigan Organization for Adolescent and Sexual Health (MOASH), Neutral Zone provided youth from SE Michigan a safe and supportive space to learn about their identities, write and talk about their stories, and build community with other youth who identify as queer in SE Michigan.
As a result of this project, a toolkit was distributed to all participating GSAs and is now available to anyone in Michigan who would like to use it to support teens across the state. The final Digital Storytelling Video was launched at the State GSA Summit this spring.
The Neutral Zone was founded in 1998 by teens looking to provide a place for cultural, educational, recreational and creative opportunities for youth, with a mission to be “a diverse, youth-driven teen center dedicated to promoting personal growth through artistic expression, community leadership and the exchange of ideas.” Hundreds of youth participate in weekly and summer programming, and the Neutral Zone records approximately 15,000 visits a year from youth who take part in its programs and special events.
“The project was a huge success,” said Neutral Zone Program Director Suzie Staley. “We were able to connect with many GSAs across southeast Michigan and create authentic opportunities for young people to feel like they matter and belong. We are so excited to continue this work and hope to reach more youth in our community and in the broader state and national communities.”
Queer Youth Stories, with support of MOASH and The HOPE Fund, was able to:
- Convene students from GSAs in Washtenaw, Livingston, Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties to hold a storytelling summit at Affirmations in Ferndale. Students built community, connected with other GSAs, held a workshop on storytelling skills and wrote stories. They also hosted the cast of “As We Go On: Our Queer Stories” to perform and share their stories with students.
- Produce a video capturing LGBTQ student stories throughout southeast Michigan.
- Create a toolkit to support sharing the storytelling video and host dialogues. The toolkit supports youth-led facilitation training, courageous leadership training and dialogue strategies for students to use in schools in tandem with the video project.
- Provide training at the MOASH Statewide Youth Conference in March to help GSAs share the produced video and host youth led dialogue in schools.