Groups gather to celebrate Triangle’s first 'Queernival'

mschultz@newsobserver.comApril 14, 2014 

“The song is about accepting who you are,” says Robert Wells, lip synching ‘Let It Go’ at Queernival, a festival for queer youth in Durham on Saturday, April 12, 2014. “When I first saw it in theaters, I thought I can’t wait to see a drag performance of this.”

MARK SCHULTZ — mschultz@newsobserver.com

DURHAM About 80 people, from pre-teens to the middle aged, gathered Saturday for “Queernival,” a celebration of freedom from adultism, homophobia, racism and other forms of oppression.

“This is a festival of youth liberation,” said Amy Glaser of iNSIDEoUT/Upsidedown, which sponsored the festival along with QORDS, a music-based summer camp, and Youth Organizing Institute.

The afternoon featured bands, drag performances and open mic sessions outside Calvary United Methodist Church on East Trinity Avenue. Gay-straight alliances and other groups had tables on issues like sexually transmitted diseases and the “school to prison pipeline” through which school disciplinary practices send disproportionate numbers of minority youth into the criminal justice system.

But the emphasis was personal, as young people talked about being attracted to members of the same sex, coming out to their parents or not fitting in with their physical gender.

Celebrities such as “Juno” actress Ellen Page and rap artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are making it easier for young people who are different, several youths said. The latter group’s hit “Same Love,” featuring lesbian singer Mary Lambert, has become an anthem for same-sex marriage.

“I think a lot of people are coming out at younger ages because they realize gay people exist – I exist,” said Qasima Wideman, 18, a senior at Cary High School.

Jasper Cobb, 13, thinks she’ll marry another woman some day.

The seventh-grader at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill said she’s lucky to have parents who supported her when she told them she liked girls and boys.

“We were in the car,” she said. “I was like, ‘Mom, I think I’m bisexual.’ She was like, ‘I think everybody’s bisexual.’”

Organizers got permission for certain young people to speak to the media during the event. But others asked not to be quoted or photographed. One girl who recited a spoken-word poem on stage said her parents did not know she was at the event.

And some students said, despite gay-straight alliances now at even some middle schools, it’s still hard for queer teens, most of all those who don’t feel they fit their anatomy.

Sophie Kahn, 17, said falling for a female classmate helped her come out.

“It was so terrifying; I hated myself,” she said of her first same-sex feelings. Her confidence grew when she started dating a fellow athlete.

“I said, ‘Dad, how would you feel if I were dating someone on the cross-country team? And he said, ‘What’s his name?” Kahn recalled. “(And I said) Well, she’s a girl.”

It’s gone well since then, she said. But now that she’s come out, she doesn’t need to keep talking about it. “I just want to go about my business.”

‘Let It Go’

Robert Wells, an adult volunteer with iNSIDEoUT/Upsidedown, closed the afternoon with a drag performance of “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen,” a song he said fits many teens’ struggles.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see / Be the good girl you always have to be / Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know

“The idea of a woman marrying another woman, a decade ago, (it) would have been illegal in every state, as opposed to just half of them,” Wells said, the mascara still lining his eyes.

“There’s always room to make the world a safer and better place for everyone.”

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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