YOU: OKC kids who crave knowledge, discourse
by Sara Ritsch
Walking through OKC Pride, Kris Williams was shocked to hear backlash against Oklahoma City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth. It has become somewhat of a trend – youth are stigmatized as lazy or reckless, some say, as though those same people have forgotten what it was like to be young.
But, “Youth are amazing!” Williams exclaims. Her previous position as an LGBT youth leader and current position as LGBTQ Coordinator at Northcare has helped her to develop a social support group for kids in OKC called Young Okies United (YOU), and the celebration of gender identity and sexual orientation in youth is her main focus in the development of YOU.
“They [young people] are the reason why we continue to gain our rights. When they receive the proper education that it’s OK to be gay...I had several kids go on and become advocates. Our kids come back and support us and launch us even further if given a chance to do so and foster those relationships. People are just scared. Stop being scared!”
Williams has been known to educate teens into adulthood on the importance of communication and openness with both themselves and the rest of the community. She has worked with a few readily-established groups, such as Young Gay and Lesbian Alliance in Redrock. She says Austin Sims, advocate and leader of the LGBT community, was actually one of her kids in a past group.
“In my last group, it was funny because these kids come from a communication age but they don’t know how to communicate with each other. They’d just sit and text and not engage. I found myself in an interesting position: I had to engage them to get them to do the same. This time [with YOU], I was able to establish that culture versus walking into the last one [which was already established].”
In order to begin engagement, they state their name, age, sexual orientation – if they want to disclose that – preferred pronoun and a fun fact, then they complement someone else in the group. “Shout outs, if you will. That gave kids the opportunity to learn enough that I wasn’t holding their hands to talk with their peers,” Williams says.
“It feels good to get a compliment even though it’s awkward sometimes. It’s a lot of coaching on my end. ‘Can you compliment their shoes? You like their hair; can you compliment their hair?’ It helped them develop positive communication skills with their peers. And I’ve used this model with my new youth group.”
YOU has two social groups, one located at a church for ages 13 to 17 and one located at Other Options, Inc. for ages 18 to 25. Keeping these groups separate provides specific discourse pertaining to their levels of development. “Being 20 is a different situation than being 13,” Williams explains.
For the older group, Williams says it is vital to introduce them to the community at Other Options – both for an older perspective and for a look into the HIV community of Oklahoma City. But for the younger group, Williams says they may eventually need to engage in intergenerational levels of communication.
“Role-modeling is also important. In the near future, I’d like to have them do things together. We [LGBT people] are a unique population, because we’re not born into our ‘family’. I was not born into lesbian parents; I was born into straight parents. So we have to find our ‘family’. That’s what makes us unique.
“That makes it scary for not only the outside world, but our own community, because of the fear of adults and youth interacting due to past and current stigmas. We are not child molesters,” Williams emphasizes. “Get that out of your stinkin’ head!”
She continues, “The reality is, a lot of people aren’t politically-minded. If we’re going to make a difference, we must start with our kids. We foster those relationships, offer support to families.” Williams’ girlfriend, Beka Wilson, is involved in PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), where Williams may refer a family for further support, as well.
“A trend I have found is these kids are looking for safe places, acceptance, love, role models – and we know the rate of suicide is stupid high, bullying is absolutely ridiculous, self-harm is extremely high – so by giving this to kids, the chances reduce drastically. Without positive community support, these kids will have worse behavior,” she says. “They have risky behavior anyway, but any opportunity to reduce those risks and we’re obligated to respond. There is a great need for our youth to be supported.”
YOU’s younger group meets at Mayflower United Congregational Church of Christ on Tuesdays from 5 to 9 p.m. The older group is facilitated at Other Options on Wednesdays from 6 to 10 p.m. They spend about an hour of social time, sit and have a formal group meeting for about an hour, then have social time again.
YOU is a nonclinical group, and although it is founded under Northcare, you are not required to sign up for mental health services. Find out about more programs at www.northcare.com.
The Gayly – August 23, 2016 @ 7:35 a.m.