This Friday, November 20th at 7pm, you can expect to hear some noise coming from the Vera Project at Seattle Center. Gender* Fierce: TranscenDANCE, an all ages performance showcase and dance party will be moving into full swing.
“For queer youth, there aren’t a whole lot of safe spaces where you can socialize, perform, and just interact together like anybody else,” said Jeff Coté, Youth Outreach Coordinator for HEYO (Health Education Youth Outreach) at Lifelong. “Spaces like that are very uncommon, even for Seattle. You’ll find plenty of events and dances, but more often then not, they are only for people over 21.”
The performance will include about a dozen youth ages 13-27 doing dance, comedy, drag, and more. The event, co-sponsored by HEYO, Gender Justice League, and End AIDS Washington, is more than just a good time, though. With on site testing, presentations about PrEP, treatment as prevention, and a queer resource fair with a variety of organizations tabling and offering their resources, Gender* Fierce promises to be a space to empower youth around safe and healthy sex – both emotionally and physically.
“When you’re a straight youth you can do any kind of after-school program, but for queer youth looking for their peers, there aren’t a lot of opportunities,” Jeff added. “Everyone has things you need help with and often the best solution is just to talk with other people like yourself.”
“I’m really excited to see what these artists come up with,” said Jackie Sandberg, who also works at HEYO as Youth Testing Coordinator and will be providing HIV testing at the event, “Some of the most original and passionate performances I’ve seen were at Gender* Fierce.”
Jackie, a genderqueer youth themselves, attended a previous Gender* Fierce event last year during a time that she was experiencing homelessness. The event left quite an impression, “When I went it was just really amazing. I was surrounded by people I felt really comfortable with and that’s not normal for me in a crowd of like 200 people. The attitude of everyone there was so like ‘you matter’ and at that part in my life it was really different from a lot of what I’ve experienced. And as a musician and performer, it meant a lot to know that there was a place where we could perform without having to hide parts of ourselves.”
For many youth it can be difficult to find opportunities to perform, either because venues are 21 and over or because they don’t want to hire queer or trans artists. Jackie pointed out, “It’s rare to have events like these, but specifically for young people who might be struggling, to have the reinforcement that they are beautiful people and that they are worth so much to the world – it’s super important.”
The event is being held on November 20th, which is also marked as the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a time to reflect and remember trans people who have been murdered in the past year. According to Jeff and Jackie, that was very intentional.
“This year the celebration is specifically going to be in honor of trans people, our fallen brothers, sisters, and gender neutral siblings,” Jackie said.
“A majority of our support staff identify as trans or genderqueer. Our co-sponsor is Gender Justice League, they’ve been involved in the planning, general consultation,” Jeff added. “There will be a moment of silence at the start of the event and there will be other elements to commemorate the day as well.”
After the performance showcase ends, the dance is expected to go until midnight. There’s been a lot of work put in to make this event a success, but the bottom line is, as Jackie puts it “It’s super empowering for young people to be in a space where so many of their peers are doing amazing things — and partying their asses off while they do it.”