Story by Renee Baker in Dallas Voice Tavern Guild Pullout – Fall 2010
When Brian Jacobs marched in his first Pride Parade, he said he felt “like nothing else mattered but being who I am.” He felt a “oneness” that surrounded him with people who were okay with who he was. Jacobs, a proud youth at Youth First Texas, got his Pride start by carrying the lead banner for the 2006 Pride Parade.
YFT has been named the official beneficiary of this year’s Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, or Pride Parade for short. The selection process is governed by the Dallas Tavern Guild, a committee of upwards of twenty taverns in the Dallas Community. Michael Doughman, Executive Director for the Guild, said each tavern may nominate an organization and present their reasoning for selection, but the final choice is “through a majority consensus”.
Doughman said though that all members felt strongly about the mentoring of the next generation and “obviously Youth First is a good decision to support that”. The Guild, he said, has a strong relation with YFT and this is the third year they have been selected.
The youth organization was incorporated in 1999 with the mission to bring LGBTQA youth together with programs and resources that “facilitate empowerment and self-acceptance.” According to YFT Director Sam Wilkes, the organization recently moved to a new location on Harry Hines and has served 1300 youth this year.
Wilkes said the center has seen a 25% increase in attendance since last year alone. He believes the increase is due to new programs, a new and safer facility and a strong Youth Board. Stephen Tune, a YFT Board Member, mentioned it was time to move as the previous facility on Maple was becoming unsafe – especially after a “murder took place in the immediate area and the police held us in lock-down.”
YFT publicly announced earlier this year that with increased center demands coupled with a downturn in the economy, the center is in need of additional financial support. Hence, the announcement that YFT is the beneficiary of the Pride Parade is good news for the center.
Doughman said the Guild realizes there are “many issues among the LGBT community” that need to be addressed such as HIV support and they are doing what they can to help. He said, “The Guild strongly believes in the future of the next generation – which is why YFT has been selected.”
At the center, Wilkes says the most popular program is the Coming Out Group. He says of the 4 week peer led series, youth learn to come out to self, friends and family, at their own pace and comfort level.
Tune says the center gives the youth a safe zone where “youth can be comfortable in themselves, because they are no longer a freak.” He says it gives the youth a chance to see their peers growing strongly among an atmosphere with adults who care.
Wilkes concurs. He says, “The biggest service we offer is peer mentoring and inspiration. By seeing other youth being productive, going to school and in healthy relationships, the environment is normalizing.”
The trinity of a safe space, youth programs and youth ownership, he says, provides this “weird synergy where you can reach youth on a deeper level.”
Wilkes says it is really amazing to see youth go from “introverted to completely empowered” and no longer hindered by what people think of them anymore. He adds, “They become their own people.”
To receive the honor of being selected as a Tavern Guild beneficiary, the youth center is asked to provide 80 to 90 volunteers to help setup the parade route and support the parade operations and festivities.
To learn more about the Guild and the Pride Parade, go online to DallasTavernGuild.org. To learn more about Youth First Texas, to make a donation or become a parade volunteer, go online to YouthFirstTexas.org.