Helen Lee/News-Register##From left: LGBTQ support group members Idhunn Stiller, Zane Downs, Skylar, Theo, and group leader Kathryn Howd pose during their monthly meeting held Nov. 18.
Helen Lee/News-Register##From left: LGBTQ support group members Idhunn Stiller, Zane Downs, Skylar, Theo, and group leader Kathryn Howd pose during their monthly meeting held Nov. 18.
Helen Lee/News-Register##Idhunn Stiller and Zane Downs work on arts and crafts during the Nov. 18 LGBTQ support group meeting.
Helen Lee/News-Register##Idhunn Stiller and Zane Downs work on arts and crafts during the Nov. 18 LGBTQ support group meeting.
By Helen Lee • Of the News-Register • 

LGBTQ teens find some safe space

Sporting a bright pink Gay-Straight Alliance T-shirt and blonde cropped hair, Stiller is full of nervous energy as she shares thoughts at a monthly Lesbian Gay Transgender Queer teen support group meeting at the McMinnville Public Library. This is her second meeting.

“I used to think I was broken, that something was wrong with me,” Stiller said. She wasn't able to come to grips with her situation and felt she was alone with it.

“I felt trapped in my mind,” she said. “I struggled with not being able to accept myself, and that didn’t allow others to accept me.”

Stiller joined McMinnville High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance her freshman year.

“Back then, I joined GSA as an ally," she said. "I didn’t really know what else to call myself.”

Now in her senior year, she's hoping to attend Oregon State University next year. She sees herself becoming a high school teacher — and by extension, a resource for those questioning their sexuality.

“I’ve lived without the luxury of having guidance,” she said. “I want to be someone people can come to for any issue, because I know what it’s like feeling ashamed and alone.”

Stiller said the LGBTQ support group is a “safe space,” somewhere “you can go and be accepted.” She regrets not learning about it earlier. She's hoping to find a similar support and advocacy group in college.

Looking at the other members of the group, she said she’s “glad they have something and someplace to go to feel accepted” as well.

Stiller said that groups like this help make life for the LGBTQ community better in rural parts of the country, but it's a slow process.

“I wish things were different," she said. "I wish living in a small town didn’t mean it has to be like this.

“There are a lot of churches here, but not necessarily many people who are supportive to the LGBTQ community.”

She said prejudice still lurks in dark corners.

“Even though it’s 2015, as high schoolers, we have fears about being open about who we are," she said. "We have fears about so much as putting up GSA fliers around school.”

The monthly support group, launched in May 2014 by some former Mac High students, is designed to be a resource for all teens questioning their sexual and gender identity.

Transwoman Kathryn Howd, 18, is its current leader. She facilitates LGBTQ-related discussion and prepares history lessons. She also coordinates speakers willing to come in and talk about their experiences with the group.

Howd said that helps foster a “sense of community” for members. “At clubs like GSA, there are a lot of allies, but not necessarily many people who are on the spectrum and who can really understand what it’s like.”

She started coming to meetings last year. Before that, she said, it was difficult for her to come out as transgender.

“Before I started coming here, I hadn’t even come out to my friends,” she said. “The people I met at this group opened me up. They made me feel like what I was feeling was valid.”

Groups like the one meeting at the library represent a valuable resource, Howd said. She said it's difficult for those dealing with sexuality and gender issues to fully accept themselves without a support network.

Theo, who's 16, said, “We talk about LGBTQ issues, like the Stonewall riots. But sometimes we just hang out and talk about issues at home.”

Howd said more than half of the members identify as transgender — a term that covers people who identify as the opposite of their biological gender or people whose identity does not conform entirely either gender.

“I know someone who started hanging out with some transgender people at my school,” said Kiera, 15. “They said they never expected that they would be so cool. I just want people to understand that we’re normal human beings.

Skylar, who was born female, but identifies as male, took the bold step of entering the Mr. Mac High contest this year. It's a male pageant designed to raise money for the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.

“I didn’t know how people would react to a trans guy in the competition," Skylar said. “There was some drama online. Some students were upset that a ‘girl’ was in Mr. Mac High.

"But there was actually a much more positive response. The school got involved and talked to those students. It was great to see how much support I had.”

Skylar went on to say, “I wish I would have known about this group earlier. It would have helped me feel accepted.”

Howd encourages teens to check out the group, which meets every third Wednesday. “It’s not always easy, but it feels nice to come here and be understood,” she said.

Comments

Paul

The "Goat Showmanship" video in the paper was way more interesting than the news about this kid.

Sally G

I'm very pleased to read about this LGBTQ Support group for teens in McMinnville. Groups like this are often literally life-saving. Adolescence can be plenty tough for everyone, but it can be a real struggle for youth who are coming out or gender non-conforming. Please know that many, many of us in the community support you! Thanks, News-Register, for the article.

E.J. Farrar

This article makes me feel proud to be a Yamhill County resident.

David Bates

It's cause for hope and optimism to read stories like this, seeing that kids out there are supporting each other. It's not an exaggeration to say, as Sally G points out, that groups like this can be literally life-saving. Another project playing a similarly supportive role is www.itgetsbetter.org. Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor John Tufts made a great video featuring many of his fellow artists, and it's worth a look.

Horse with no name

Thank you Helen Lee, News Register and the kids. I agree with the comments of Sally, E.J., and David. Real support for adolescents, pride in a community that exercises intelligence over prejudice and not the least of all hope for the future. We've been moving ever so slowly toward the Enlightenment, (a philosophical movement of the 18th century, characterized by belief in the power of human reason and by innovations in political, religious, and educational doctrine) for a long time and away from the dark ages (a period or stage marked by repressiveness, a lack of enlightenment or advanced knowledge, etc.). This is a good thing.

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