Intro by Dede Willis
I had the privilege of becoming a part of the SMYRC staff recently. Since then, I have realized that there are many young adults out there living their life and becoming awesome people who once used the SMYRC program. Instead of talking about me and what I do, I’d rather share this platform with those who can better speak to what our program accomplishes. I met Amanda Russel at Gay Fair on the Square this year while I was tabling for SMYRC. Amanda was volunteering for The Living Room youth organization located in Clackamas. After meeting Amanda, I really wanted to share their spirit and joy for SMYRC. I hope to bring many more stories from those who have transitioned into young adulthood at SMYRC and who can personally share the message of what SMYRC brings to the community. Without further ado. . . .
“My SMYRC Story”
I came out at age 14, and grew up in West Linn, which was (and still is) not the friendliest place to be queer. I am fortunate to have amazingly forward-thinking and supportive parents, but outside of my own home, the atmosphere of my town (especially at school) was, at best, less than welcoming. To find support and a peer group, I attended COSMYC, a program in Clackamas County that lost its funding shortly thereafter. When this happened, I began going to SMYRC to hang out and get support instead. I gradually made more friends, and soon SMYRC was my home away from home, and my queer family grew.
I made friends with kids from all over Portland, and the surrounding areas, who came from every situation imaginable. I met kids whose parents had kicked them out for being queer and trans, and I met kids who had left on their own accord because they were not safe at home.
I met kids who had gotten very good at acting straight and cis so they didn’t get beaten up, who would then come to SMYRC to experiment with their gender presentation or drag. I met kids who had been ostracized at their churches, and whose parents had tried to pray the gay out of them, or exorcise them, or make them dress “like a girl” or “like a boy.” I met kids who had sold themselves for a place to stay because they had no other option. I met kids who would sneak away at night or during the weekends to go to the underage club or to meet up with people they had met on the internet. I met kids whose significant others would spend the night at their houses while their parents thought they were just very good friends, and kids who harm themselves or self-medicated. No matter what a youth’s situation was, SMYRC and the staff greeted everyone with judgment-free and open arms.
At SMYRC, we cooked together with donated food, substituting missing ingredients with more creative options. We made cake and soup and salad and pasta and a lot of mystery dishes. In the summer we grew tomatoes, peppers and herbs in raised flower beds out back. And we jello-wrestled and played sports in the park. We made art and wrote together, screen printed t-shirts, collaged, and compiled zines. We made protest signs and marched for our rights and against the war.
We helped each other take up new hobbies and begin, grow, and cultivate amazing talent and performance careers. Writers and slam poets, drag queens and kings, dancers and singers thrived in the endlessly supportive atmosphere that was open mic night. There were births and memorials and marriages, breakups, crushes, first dates and last dates. We mourned the deaths of good friends together.
I am still in touch with many of the friends I made at SMYRC over the years, several of them I am still incredibly close with, and many I see regularly. Every so often we will start to reminisce and one of us will say “remember when?” A lot of the things we experienced together, no one who wasn’t there will ever quite understand.
I wouldn’t trade all my years at SMYRC for anything else in the world. I met some of my best friends there, and I learned so many things I would never have learned in school or anywhere else I can think of. SMYRC played a huge role in shaping who I have become as an adult.