Radical Youth

Meet 10 teens and twentysomethings working to improve conditions for the queer kids that follow in their wake

Their experiences have left each with something to say, and both Carlson and Barich have taken a keen interest in helping other homeless youth and kids in foster care. Barich, now a senior at Hamline University, works part-time at The Safe House in St. Paul, a shelter for homeless kids, and spends 20 hours a week organizing a mentoring program that links up homeless youth with caring adults. "A lot of youth don't think that any adult would want to spend time with them," Barich says. "I encourage them to ask an adult they like to take on the role of mentor. They may meet twice a week or twice a month."

Barich's first-hand experiences and speaking abilities have won her invitations to various social-work and youth-care conferences, and she's made the rounds with legislators at the state capitol more than once. Her identity as a lesbian has also allowed her to investigate the relationship between being queer and being homeless. "GLBT kids are disproportionately represented in the youth-care system," Barich says.

Carlson, meanwhile, has taken a quieter, but equally passionate role when it comes to activism on behalf of youth in foster care. He'll serve as a keynote speaker this month at the Network Building Conference, speaking about the importance of mentors. Michelle Chalmers, a Twin Cities social worker, has become his "lesbian mother," Carlson says. Hearing about the young man's plans to become a model or attend cosmetology school is energizing, says Chalmers, who is careful to note that Carlson has never been her client.

"He's an incredible artist. He gave me a painting for my 30th birthday," Chalmers says. "And he bleached the highlights in my hair."

Laura Vick and Kate Wall

Laura Vick avoided going into details when she proposed doing a community-service project on diversity to earn a Girl Scout gold award. The prestigious award goes to scouts who excel in leadership or community service. "I turned in my proposal and I was really vague," Vick says. "They didn't really know what I was doing until I turned in my project."

Vick's plan was to educate her peers in Northfield about gay and lesbian issues as well as HIV/AIDS--matters she knew could cause some controversy in the small southern-Minnesota town. Still, she reserved some time and a place to conduct a series of workshops at the local high school during the district's health and wellness week. "I was really afraid nobody was going to come," the 18-year-old confides. "But it turned out to be a great success."

Indeed. Attendance at the various sessions on homophobia, HIV/AIDS, and pluralism attracted from three to 100 people. Several health classes participated, and students in study halls could obtain passes to attend the workshops. The speakers who Vick had lured from the Twin Cities to talk about diversity were asked to speak impromptu in other classes. And during one workshop in which participants were asked to move to different parts of the classroom according to their various identities--black, female, gay, and so forth--Vick and her girlfriend, Kate Wall, came out to their peers: Despite the snickering from some students, the two girls stepped forward when the discussion leader asked if anyone identified as gay.

"It really got people talking about homosexuality," Wall, 17, says, "and that had never happened before. And people kept talking about the workshops for a long time afterward."

The workshops also caught the attention of Northfield's human-rights commission, of which Vick was elected a member in 1997. The commission awarded her a certificate for her work at a city council meeting on Sept. 8.

Wall, meanwhile, has continued to work with Northfield's LGBT Youth Committee, which, among other things, has helped bring a portion of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt to Northfield and is trying to build a queer-youth support group. "The atmosphere, at the high school at least, is not completely safe," Wall says. "We're working to create safe zones and safe staff, people who you can approach and confide in if you're gay or lesbian."

Carla Nathan

While her parents were away at church one Sunday morning, 19-year-old Carla Nathan left the house. After packing her things, she tidied up the room in the basement where she'd spent most of her teenage years. Things hadn't been going well since she'd come out to her family as gay. "I knew that when I came out, I would most likely have to move out," Nathan says.

So when her mother showed up at school the next day and demanded to see her, Nathan wasn't surprised. The South High student informed her teachers and counselors that she didn't want to see her mother. But somebody didn't get the message, and Nathan found herself in an empty hallway being screamed at and bullied by her mother. Things eventually turned violent, and the teen decided to take matters into her own hands: She filed for, and obtained, a restraining order against her mom.

Nathan, an articulate young woman with a penchant for Tommy Hilfiger polos and a silver ring pierced through one eyebrow, recalls the scene with cool detachment. Her level-headed approach to things has earned her the respect of her peers and adults alike: The candidate for homecoming queen and former vice president of South's student council now serves on the advisory councils of Out 4 Good, the Minneapolis Public Schools' GLBT student and staff support program; the GLBT Host Home Program of Minneapolis Youth Diversion's Project OffStreets; and the Children's Law Center of Minnesota. She recently finished a stint as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the American Red Cross.

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