Two years after launching Just Us, a program to help LGBT youth in a crisis, the Oasis Center is officially announcing the launch of a new youth activism leadership program. 

“What we really wanted and what we felt was needed, and a lot of our young people were expressing a desire for, was to be actively engaged in social activism,” Pamela Sheffer, coordinator of Just Us, said in a recent interview. 

The leadership program will be called Students of Stonewall, named after the 1969 New York Stonewall riots that sparked the gay rights movement. 

The idea for the name came out of the drop-in sessions for LGBT youth the center runs on Tuesday nights. They were learning about the riots, and then President Barack Obama mentioned them. 

“What really got them excited was when President Obama during his second inauguration speech mentioned Stonewall, and they absolutely connected with it,” Sheffer said. “They were so excited about it. It just seemed like a natural thing to include Stonewall into that particular initiative for them. They have reclaimed it as something that is a powerful reminder of what activism can do.”

That being said, Sheffer points out the students will engage in nonviolent activism.  

“We’re definitely not going to be pushing any kind of a violent initiative; it’s going to be more about voice and relationships,” she said. 


Forms of activism

As youth activism goes, Sheffer said there are three major ways to go about it: social activism, youth-driven activism and youth-led community organizing.

Sheffer described social activism as campaigns that are organized and led by adults but engage the youth voice. Think: Tennessee Equality Project’s Advancing Equality Day on the Hill.

Youth-driven activism encourages young people to be the primary movers within an adult movement. An example of that would be students engaging with the local school board to promote an environment of equality within schools. 

Last, Sheffer said, is youth-led community organizing, which is designed and driven entirely by young people. The students will get their first taste of this type of activism by planning the discussion topics for the center’s weekly LGBT youth drop-in sessions. 


Accepting applications

Students of Stonewall is looking to recruit five high school students and five college students to meet  Thursday evenings for two hours, September through May. The program will pay students a stipend, but Sheffer said the amount is still being figured out. She hopes the center can attract business sponsors. 

Before the program even gets started, Students of Stonewall will hold a retreat to figure out what projects they want to take on. They will decide how they will gauge success. 

“They’re going to be identifying what their target goals are," Sheffer said. "From there, they’re going to figure out how to get to that point."

Possible ideas can include acceptance within the faith community, LGBT youth homelessness and education about LGBT topics. 

Sheffer hopes to attract passionate students, even if they don’t think of themselves as leaders. 

"They may not know that they’re a leader, they may not think that they’re a leader," she said. "They may be shy, but they got a passion within them. We will help that grow inside of them."

Everybody has a talent, and Sheffer's hope is to help young people give their passion a voice. 

"If their skill sets are more background — more internet research, whatever it is — everybody plays a role," she said. "Everybody has a particular strength that we’re going to capitalize on." 

The deadline for applications is July 15. To find out more, call Pam Sheffer at 983-6862.


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