Martin Library is one of my favorite places in York. Every age, race, economic status level, ability level…everyone comes to the library and feels welcomed and engaged. I’ve gotten to be personally involved in some of their especially dynamic student program, like Y.E.S. (The Youth Empowerment Summit, a full day conference for students from all over the county), the Martin Library after-school program in partnership with the City of York and their annual poetry competition. Imagine my delight and surprise when some of the students I met at the library told me about a program that the library started but that is very much student driven and student run, the Martin Libray G.S.A. I got the chance to chat with Youth Services Director, Reed Apostal, about the program and its impact on York area students. Awesome and not surprising, some of the enterprising students wanted to add in a few words themselves!
Martin Library’s GSA is a student-driven Gay-Straight Alliance that focuses on hanging out and collaborative projects. Their first project was making a support/informational zine. It meets every other Wednesday at about 6:30pm in Martin Library’s Teen Forum. The next meeting will be 6/10. You can find more information right now in the Teen Forum, and we’re looking at starting a Facebook page to share information. The formation of the group was inspired by Erin and Meghan, two of our student leaders, who noticed lack of LGBTQ+ support at their school and wanted to create an environment that would promote tolerance and friendship. Goal: Create a local safe place for LGBTQ youth to hang out. This really is an example of a student-driven program – they asked for it, they found a meeting time, they picked some projects, and they started bringing friends and building the group. It’s been really exciting to see it come together.
Back in “my day” (we won’t use specific numbers) men and women would live whole lives repressing or simply not knowing or understanding their sexual or gender identity beyond what was expected of them by the social norms of the time. If a someone came out, it was as likely to be after a couple decades of married life or thoughtful singlehood before striking out on the LGBT road was even viewed as a possibility. Thanks to a culture of acceptance and the availability of media, among other things, saavy teens are exploring their identity and demanding recognition in a way many would not have been able to before. It’s all kinds of 2015.
So what does LGBT awareness look like for teenagers (the group is just for students, ages 13-18, although adult speakers or presenters can come in)? FUN! Stuff like ‘Safe Space + Dress Day'; a day that people can come in and try on clothes – dresses, suits, shirts, pants, regardless of gender or current self-expression where you can try out a new style or type of clothing in a safe, welcoming space. Creating a support board and a zine. This is a modern take on activism and a fresh, broad-minded new approach to reaching LGBT youth.
So where does this program fall in terms of the library’s duties or priorities? Why now and why at Martin?
The GSA at Martin is a student driven organization that embodies teenage activism. Martin library = visible home base for local teens. WHY NOW? WHY NOT?! This falls right in line with the other Youth & Teen Services Martin offers, like TAB (Teen Advisory Board), writing, video/board games, anime, art, and book clubs, poetry competition, monthly parties, Batteries Not Included board game tournament, Blockbuster Books, Summer Reading Club, YES (Youth Empowerment Summit) and more. As the students say, the activities are all about ‘new friends, free snacks, acceptance, meeting like-minded people and fun activities.’
Well said Reed! And kudos to the brave, beautiful and fabulous teen leaders who are stepping up to the plate to make York a better place for us all.