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English 212

2002 Third Paper

On Serendip

A Needle in the Haystack

Jill Neustel

Hidden in plain sight, in a respectable neighborhood, one can find a resource center for queer youth. The center is easy to miss; the only indications of its existence to the outside world are a few signs on the door. Once inside, however, a completely different world is revealed. It is almost always busy, populated with gay men of all types, from drag queens to flaming faggots, and there are also usually a few lesbians. From its bleak exterior, one would not easily imagine the colorful and lively interior.
As an urban center for queer youth, it faces the two-sided sword of recognition. To create a safe space for its members, it does not advertise its services. The fear is that, if knowledge of the center's existence were widespread, it would be easier for those opposed to the queer community to disrupt it. However, because knowledge of the center is only passed through word of mouth, it remains almost entirely unknown, except for the community of members that visit daily.
It provides services for queer youth from about the age of 12 through 23. A center focused on youth, it helps its members through the troublesome times of middle school, high school, and college. After a member turns 24, s/he has the option of becoming a volunteer or of working for the center, but s/he is no longer allowed to "participate" in the traditional sense of membership. Because the services are directed at youth, the center strictly enforces the age rules. However, because the age range for members is quite large, many members develop close friendships. It seems that nearly everyone in the center knows everyone else. New members could easily be scared off by this, because they do not know anyone and also because they are not part of the "family" yet. Most of the members of the center are African-American males. The center is located in the gayborhood. At times, the ratio of black men to any other population is quite staggering. On any given day, there will be at least four men for every one woman, and this can also be intimidating.
With its given population, most of the discussions about sex at the center use a vocabulary based on gay male experience. Significant others are usually referred to as your/my "man," and the pronouns "she" and "her" are used in reference for everyone, regardless of sex or gender. In order to not offend anyone, reclaimed words such as "dyke" and "fag" (or "faggot") are not used in formal situations, but they abound in casual conversation. Nearly every conversation is centered on the homosexual lifestyle, so the language of sex is the language of the queer community, with a focus on gay men.
The center offers a myriad of services for its members, including counseling, free HIV/AIDS testing, job and apartment searches, discussion groups, tutoring, art groups, and more. The commitment of the center to assist the queer youth community is quite easy to see.
My role at the center is to help with some of the GED tutoring and to help lead Open Discussion. Open Discussion is a group that meets weekly to give members an open forum to work through problems and concerns. Nearly anything can be talked about, and the only rules of the group are of respect. (For example, "do not talk while someone else is talking.") My main objective in assisting with this group is to come to a better understanding of the troubles in the lives of members. I am helping with the tutoring program to give others a chance at bettering themselves.
The center aims to be a safe space for the queer community. In many ways, it succeeds. However, in my opinion, it would be much more beneficial if it reached a larger portion of the queer community. There are people out there who would greatly benefit from the center's services, if they knew of its existence.

Part Deux

My field site has a diverse range of services and opportunities to offer, but it is almost entirely unknown to the queer population. This untapped resource should be better known, at least within the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) community. My goal in my curriculum is to rewrite the center as a place for all of the queer community to utilize.
The first part of my curriculum will be an advertising campaign to spread awareness of the center and its services. I will create examples of advertisements to be placed in gay publications. These ads will be discreet but informative, maintaining the objective of the center to be a safe space for all who participate in its programs. It is difficult to raise awareness of a queer center without inviting anti-gay objectors to threaten its safety, but without a wider recognition of such services, they are ultimately useless. Instead of creating an open, secure place for the queer community to congregate, general ignorance of the center produces an alternate closet for the queer community. The members of the center merely escape from the world into another closed space. It is my goal to make the center an open place in which a much larger portion of the queer community can come together.
The second part of my curriculum will be to aid my site as it currently stands to better understand the population that attend. Most of the members that visit the center are urban black gay men. I intend to assist in an understanding of their situation and how to best help them to handle their situation. The center's services are all very useful, and I would like to give examples of how to make them better, not only in general but also in with the center's members in mind. Many of the services provided by the center need only a small push to make them better.
I would also like to make suggestions for a theoretical space that would be ideal for my field site. The current setup of the building does not allow for many people to be assisted at one time. Keeping in mind that the center is a non-profit organization, this will be a difficult task, but I believe that some small changes can be made without much trouble. My suggestions might also be kept in mind when it moves its services to a different building.
Another task that I would like to undertake in my curriculum is that of expanding its services to other populations. There is a very small population of lesbians that attend the center, and if it expands, it would be necessary to accommodate queer women more fully. The center has limited services to offer this population, and this is mostly due to their general non-presence. If awareness is raised, it is likely that the lesbian population will expand and require more attention from the center.
I recognize that these are all lofty goals for my curriculum, but I believe that they are all attainable. The center has the potential to be a wonderful resource for the queer youth community, but it requires a little reworking before it can accomplish this.

Initial Bibliography

Bailey, Robert W. Gay Politics, Urban Politics

Cole, C. Bard Briefly Told Lives

Higgs, David Queer Sites: Gay Urban Histories Since 1600

Ingram, Gordon Brent, Anne-Marie Bouthillette, and Yolanda Retter Queers in Space: Communities, Public Places, Sites of Resistance

Kaiser, Charles The Gay Metropolis 1940-1996

Nard, Peter M. Gay Men's Friendships: Invincible Communities

Reid-Pharr, Robert F. and Samuel R. Delany Black Gay Man: Essays

Rotello, Gabriel Sexual Ecology

Signorile, Michaelangelo Life Outside: The Signorile Report on Gay Men

Turner, William B., Urvashi Vaid, and John D'emilio Creating Change

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