A safe space to be different

. October 26, 2012.

Adolescence is never easy, but the journey can be especially difficult for gay, lesbian or transgendered youth. Gay teens may already be struggling internally with issues of identity — that’s hard enough for anyone. To have to deal with the fear of the disapproval of family and rejection by friends and peers can make a difficult time far more difficult. Public awareness of the problem of bullying has grown enormously in recent years, but human nature being what it is, such hurtful behavior will never be entirely a thing of the past. Is there somewhere for these teens to turn?

Yes, thanks to the Neutral Zone, Ann Arbor’s youth-driven teen center, and its Riot Youth program. Riot Youth aims for maximum inclusiveness, pitching itself at “LGBTQQA” youth. It stands for “lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, questioning and allied,” and the all-encompassing acronym demonstrates their commitment to providing a safe space for any teen who feels separate from the norm. Riot Youth conducts work shops and support groups, presents theatrical productions to raise awareness of gay issues, attends school board and other community meetings to attempt to improve the climate for gay teens, in addition to hosting good-old-fashioned fun like movie nights and dance parties. Their Queer Prom this spring drew over 250 youth from throughout the region, putting an inclusive spin on a timeless teen rite of
passage. Interested teens should check out a weekly meeting, Fridays from 4-6pm. Everyone is welcome! The Neutral Zone, 310 E. Washington St.,
734-214-9995. www.neutral-zone.org