What it’s like to be queer in Moab
By | Steph Hambrosky
Being a queer and/or trans individual in rural communities can be a challenge, especially as a young adult. Moab Pride is working to help queer and/or trans youth exist safely and proudly in the Moab community. By organizing a support system and events for the queer community throughout the year, Moab Pride is striving to offer a space where individuals can not only exist, but thrive in our community.
Some Moabites may recognize the acronym “QTs” from Moab Pride-related events, flyers, and zines. An inclusive umbrella term used to describe those who identify as queer and/or trans and the straight folks who stand in solidarity with them, QTs simplifies the ever-expanding alphabet soup used to describe anyone who deviates from straight or cis-gender identities. Some folks may understandably refrain from using “queer” due to its historical use as a pejorative term. However, most contemporary movements comprised of people with diverse gender identities and sexualities prefer “queer.” Broadly, it entails not only a departure from heterosexuality but also a rejection of traditional gender roles, heteronormativity –the way in which our culture revolves around heterosexual norms and assumptions– and even prescribed ideas about relationships, such as monogamy.
Existing as a QT in a rural Utah town presents a unique set of challenges. This is especially true for the youth in our community. While Moabites boast about this town’s relatively progressive attitudes, conservative, rigid, and hateful mindsets persist all around us. The transgenerational trauma of this community certainly includes the impact of queerphobia and bullying in our schools. Last year, numerous community members realized the tremendous need for safe, accepting spaces for queer and trans youth in our community. To meet this need Moab Pride initiated the Rainbow Clubs (Gender-Sexuality Alliances* [GSAs]) at the Grand County High School (GCHS) and Grand County Middle School (GCMS).
The Rainbow Clubs focus on empowering youth and celebrating however they choose to identify. Along with MaryAnne Russell, I co-facilitated the Rainbow Club at GCMS. During the 2017-2018 school year, we worked with over a dozen different students who consistently attended our after school meetings at the Grand County Library and other spots throughout Moab. Some of these students rarely leave the Moab city limits, so we enjoyed taking them to Castle Valley, Lions Park, and Left Hand. We worked toward cultivating a space where they felt comfortable and open with us. We hosted impromptu talent shows, created collages, practiced for individual and group drag performances, engaged in storytelling, and baked rainbow colored cookies and cupcakes in the Youth Garden Project’s kitchen space. Over the past year, I grew to love and appreciate the Rainbow Club kids.
Through working with the Rainbow Club this year I realized that the youth in our community naturally lead the way on queer thought. They dismiss the importance of rigid gender identities and often embrace fluidity. They understand that many of us may feel differently about our gender and sexuality on a daily basis. Youth consistently pave the way toward radical acceptance in our society; they challenge our assumptions, stretch the limits of our conceptions of identity, and encourage us to develop humility. We must continue to value and engage with the fresh, critical perspectives of the youth in Moab. The relationships we cultivate with young people consist of a balance between enforcing boundaries, expectations, and structure and allowing them to teach us new ways of being.
Tangibly supporting queer youth entails a radical acceptance of their chosen identity, including their preferred pronouns and gender expression. We should create spaces where youth of all ages and identities can freely express themselves. Targeted bullying of queer, trans, and gender fluid youth in our schools continues to create an unwelcoming environment for these students—students who merely wish to authentically exist in this community, just as we all do! Moab Pride’s recent Rainy Daze all ages dance party in February created such a space, and we will continue to collaborate to create these inclusive events in the future. Save the date for our Summer Skies back to school all ages dance party on Friday, August 10th at 6pm at the MARC’s outdoor patio space. If we strive to support youth no matter how they choose to identify, we build a community founded on compassion, trust, transparency, and solidarity. We will only fail if we do not allow full, free expression and a radical transformation of our conceptions of identity.
*formerly known as Gay-Straight Alliances (the new acronym reflects the existence of identities beyond “gay” and “straight”)