If you give a teen a topic, he’s gonna want a soapbox

I took the Boy to a community youth meeting tonight. Turns out he was the youngest attendee by almost two years, and some of the others were pushing the top edge of the age group at 20. Since it was his first meeting, I got to have a “pass” to sit in and check out how things work. After all, I am slightly over the age limit.

There were two adult “facilitators” who are about my age. They mostly made sure that when there were things that my newbie wouldn’t have understood – like inside jokes, events we didn’t know about, etc- that the kids backed up to tell the whole thing. And they helped assure that everyone had a chance to chime in. But really, they didn’t have much work to do, at least tonight.

The group clearly has been meeting together for long enough to have established some informal leadership, but at the same time was extremely welcoming. There must be sufficient transience in the group that it’s normal for there to be visitors and new faces. They waited for the FPK to feel comfortable enough to speak up, and invited him to do so at times. They got his jokes, which is always helpful. And it turns out that while he was the youngest by age, he was not the least mature in the room.

The conversation time lasted about an hour, with people coming in late and picking up the threads, and it was all about music. Every sort of music imaginable. And they just talked. And they expressed opinions that sounded as though they were the pre-eminant experts on that genre. There were some bold statements, some of which were bolstered by pretty solid arguments. Others were typical adolescent soapboxing, reminding everyone (including themselves) that they are the expert.

It could have been any group of young people I’ve been around- athletic teams I coached, classes I taught, church youth groups and Sunday school classes. But it wasn’t. It was a group of young adults who identify as LGBTQ or are straight allies. And while there is greater acceptance of LGBTQ young people at school and in the community than ever before, they still are outsiders in a lot of ways. But not here.

In fact, this was the sort of meeting that I’ve hoped the Boy would experience at church youth group, but never has. Somehow, this group has figured out hospitality and community by adhering to some very simple rules… respect one another, keep the confidences shared here, no phones. They challenged and teased each other in ways that showed tremendous respect for one another. Even when they called each other out for being just flat wrong about that rapper or this pop singer. There was no agenda, other than to let one another be truly relaxed, feel totally safe, and express who they are.

Maybe it helps that the ages range a little higher than the typical youth group. Maybe it helps that they had to go out of their way to get there. Maybe being marginalized helps to unite them more quickly. Their stories may not be identical, but they’ve each walked at least part of a similar path. I don’t know… but I’m thankful for the chance to see kids being kids- even if they don’t know what good music really is.

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