Youth Pride and BAGLY Prom thrive despite adversity

by Scott Kearnan

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 9, 2008

Don't bother raining on their parade. The gays will just come, anyway.

"In 2006, we had torrential rain," recalls Joblin C. Younger of that year's Youth Pride event. But you know young people: never concerned about catching cold (or eating their veggies) they still showed up to get soaked in pride.

"We had attendees in the thousands, anyway," says Younger, president of The Friends of GLBT Youth, the Boston group that organizes the celebration. "This year, we hope to break all our records."

With weather still on their side for Youth Pride 2008 (Saturday, May 10), that's surely a possibility. The annual event will commence with a noon rally on the Boston Common, followed by a parade route by the State House and City Hall Plaza and ending back at the Common for a three-hour festival of fun: live music, games, food, raffle prizes and more.

Later that evening, the teens and 20-somethings will don their gayest apparel for The 2008 BAGLY (Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian Bisexual & Transgender Youth) Prom at City Hall from 7-11 p.m. This year's theme, "Moulin Rouge," was selected by the 11 members of BAGLY's Youth Leadership Committee, says program director Jessica Flaherty.

Both Youth Pride and The BAGLY Prom have storied histories in providing supportive outlets for GLBT youth, 15 and 28 years, respectively. And each was conceived as an opportunity for members of the gay community, primarily but not exclusively teens, to find common ground with other young people who share their unique joys, struggles, personal victories and social battlements.

"All youth have growing pains," says Younger. "Adolescence is a difficult enough time for everybody, [in terms of] figuring out who you are and what you're all about. But when you add on the stigma that comes with being GLBT, it can create isolation and low self esteem."

It can create far worse, too. Instances of successful and attempted teen suicides are far too common in the GLBT community, according to the Massachusetts 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (conducted every two years, the 2007 report will not be available until June 2008). GLBT high school students are four times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide, four times more likely to miss school over safety concerns and twice as likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon.

Numbers like this are nothing new. In 1992, Governor William F. Weld created the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth in response to such concerns. Under the administration of Governor Mitt Romney, funding was cut and programs discontinued. During that time, The Friends of GLBT Youth (then known as The Friends of the Governor's Commission) formed to address the dissipation of the Commission's efforts, which included absolving cost and responsibility for Youth Pride.

But in May 2006, just two days before that year's Youth Pride, Romney announced his preliminary intention to abolish the Commission. Although the Governor held off on the act for two more months, the deed was formally done by executive order in July, shortly after the General Court established the Massachusetts Commission of Gay and Lesbian Youth, an additional, independent agency of the Commonwealth.

At the time, Romney seemed to gloss over his earlier threat and claimed that there was now simply no need for two agencies concerned with gay youth.

Currently armed with a more inclusive title, The Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth is still in operation. The timing of this year's Youth Pride and BAGLY Prom is particularly appropriate; just last week the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released "Direct from the Field: A Guide to Bullying Prevention."

The report includes sobering statistics and guidelines to establishing anti-bully curricula and will be distributed to public schools around the state. It was a joint project with The Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth, and though the 123 page document contains only two pages dedicated solely to "LGBT Youth Issues," the conscious effort to bring anti-gay bullying out of the closet should be commended, say community leaders.

"It's really never happened before," says Flaherty of the gay inclusive Guide. "It's a pioneering piece of curricula." It's timely, too. According to both Younger and Flaherty, the bullies are still showing up, even as adults.

Both Youth Pride and The BAGLY Prom have previously received anti-gay protestors, particularly members of the poorly organized MassResistance coalition.

"Adolescence is a difficult enough time ... but when you add on the stigma that comes with being GLBT, it can create isolation and low self esteem."

Younger and Flaherty both say that group has gone so far as to take photographs of attending youth, many of whom may not be out to all friends and family members and post them on the MassResistance Web site.

"They harass them, take pictures and put them on their Web site," says Younger. "They don't seem to respect anybody, but I would think there would at least be a higher respect for youth."

"They always have a big [Web site] posting after the prom," agrees Flaherty. "They have pictures of the youth and staff, saying how dreadful and horrible we are. How we're corrupting the young."

Does MassResistance plan to show up this year? A call to the organization attempted to clarify, but the question was barely uttered before it was EDGE's turn to be bullied.

"What a silly question!" asserted the unidentified female on the other end of the line. "Do we have a plan to be there? We don't make plans. Things just happen."

Very well, then, allow us to rephrase: should the stars align precisely, will circumstances allow for a MassResistance presence?

"There will be a lot of people on the sidewalk," assures the MassResistance organizer. "Our e-mail blasts go out to a lot of people. Many of them, naturally, will be curious."


For what it's worth, there's little worry that any anti-gay activists will compromise the festivities. The personal rewards for those attending are far too great, and besides; GLBT youth have plenty of experience in storming the practical and proverbial weather.

"I went to Youth Pride for the first time when I was in 8th grade. It was actually snowing," remembers Kelly Lydon. She says she was hesitant to attend at first. "I was on the down-low that I was queer. I wasn't one of those kids who was down with the rainbow."

How times have changed. Now 21, Lydon is Youth Pride coordinator for The Friends of GLBT Youth and planning the same party she had planned to ditch years ago.

"When I was there, and at the BAGLY Prom, I was blown away," says Lydon of how the experience changed her perspective and comfort with identifying as queer. "From then on, it was full force ... protests, all that stuff."

Lydon continues, "I was a big angry lesbian." Wait until MassResistance gets a load of that one.

For more information on 2008 Youth Pride, visit

For more information on The BAGLY Prom, visit