Statement on Youth Autonomy

Insideout believes that a grassroots, youth-run structure is essential for harnessing the exponential power of youth organizing. The Gay-/Queer-Straight Alliance (GSA/QSA) movement is unique in being driven by young people and rooted in schools. In Insideout, we try to build on that momentum by giving youth the support and infrastructure needed to work together across GSAs/QSAs (and with youth who are not in GSAs/QSAs, or not in schools) towards goals they set, both as individual clubs and collectively. Insideout is run by an Executive Board of five teenagers. The Board works alongside a Senate, an ever-expanding body of youth leaders, ideally at least two from every school or GSA/QSA in our area.

Insideout youth work together by becoming friends, supporting one another’s struggles and challenges, and by taking on collaborative projects such as Backwords, the Insideout magazine, and Queernival, a festival and celebration of youth liberation. We serve as a hub to bring youth together and to provide them with practical and educational tools and inspiration to take back to their schools. By helping GSAs and QSAs come together, the power of each individual group is strengthened, and the movement grows exponentially larger, because networked GSAs/QSAs help create even more GSAs and QSAs. It also allows GSAs/QSAs to reflect on and share their strengths and challenges, and so to grow stronger as a movement. This structure has proven to be a transformative force in making life better for LGBTQ young people in our area.

Building a grassroots, youth-run organization has been challenging, but we think the challenge is worth it. Here are some reasons why:

Youth are clearer in their vision of liberation.
Youth have an easier time than adults breaking through norms for gender and sexuality that are harmful and repressive. Youth have more vivid imaginations, less cynicism, and more hope and resilience. These skills are essential for fighting the good fight, and making the most of these skills requires that youth have meaningful control within the organization.

Youth know better than anyone else what youth need and want.
As a youth-serving organization, Insideout believes we are stronger when youth take the reins. The organization is most effective when young people’s valuable insights and experiences are centered, not just included as an afterthought or in an advisory role. This is the best way, we think, to meet young people’s needs, not just the needs of our youth leaders, but of all the youth they serve.

Youth have underutilized potential as agents of social change.
In our culture, youth are taught to be passive and to do whatever adults tell them to. But youth have also been at the forefront of every social justice movement, and they have played a profound role in fighting for LGBTQ liberation in their schools. We want to maximize young people’s potential and help them realize the power that they have to create change.

Schools are a powerful asset for organizing.
Most young people go to school, which means that schools include one of the broadest, most diverse segments of our population. By being rooted in schools, GSAs and QSAs have access to space, adult support, and other resources that have allowed the movement to grow at an impressive rate. Since most youth go to school, they have access (including material resources such as transportation) to these clubs that may not be possible elsewhere. This allows youth who are traditionally under resourced to get the life saving support and help that they need.

Youth leadership is good for youth leaders.
Youth are told in a thousand ways that they have to wait until they are older to have a meaningful say in their lives and communities. Schoolwork is most often seen as an instrumental tool for youth to learn skills that will be useful later. But in Insideout, the work youth do is important when they do it. Youth are not just practicing skills for later, their hands-on projects and undertakings as leaders in Insideout are important and have real consequences now. Youth founded Insideout and have slowly built up its leadership structure, learning as they go what works and what doesn’t. The skills they develop by leading the organization will be helpful to them throughout their entire lives, as many of our alumni are already aware. They also serve as a powerful role model for their peers. Within Insideout, youth have learned how to plan events large and small, how to organize campaigns, how to make intentional space for healing and peer support, how to create, publish and distribute a magazine, and so much more.

Of course, youth need adults, too!

If Insideout is a car, and youth are its drivers, adults are the tires. We need adults to help carry us along, so that we can go with ease and confidence in whichever direction we choose. Adults help staff our events, provide much needed supervision and support, and share their relevant experiences and their unique skills and expertise through workshops and trainings, and sometimes just by listening and talking with us. Our adult Board, Outside In 180, fulfills our legal and fiscal responsibilities as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Most importantly, adults have jobs, and youth need access to adult networks and financial resources in order to advocate effectively for ourselves.

We also need patience from adults, and a willingness to examine their own adultist attitudes and practices. Insideout strives not to assimilate into adult culture, but to retain the true spirit of the adolescents and children who make it up. As an organization, we strive to be an authentic and unadulterated creation of young people. Adultist norms for professionalism contribute to the silencing of youth and make it harder for young people to speak up, access power and be taken seriously. Instead, please get behind us. Trust us. Listen to us. Join us! We need your help as we tackle this mess of a world and make it better.