Movie night benefits sexual minority youth

Students in the Portland State University women’s studies Gay and Lesbian Literature class held a movie night Tuesday to benefit the Sexual Minority Youth Recreation Center.

Held at Cinema 92, the evening included both entertainment and information regarding issues faced by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.

Sponsoring the night as an effort to educate those at Portland State as well as benefit the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered movement, students worked to organize an event that would be open to all community members, said Wendy Judith Cutler, the class’ professor.

The 1984 Academy Award-winner for best documentary, “The Times of Harvey Milk,” shown as the feature presentation, centers on the life of City Commissioner Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected San Francisco political officer. Cutler described the film as “very powerful and very moving,” explaining that it chronicles an important time in sexual minority history.

The class made the decision to donate the profits of the benefit to SMYRC when they learned of the center’s current financial trouble, said student Corey Whitcomb.

“One member in the group had volunteered there and he mentioned that they are seriously in need of money,” she said. “We’re hoping to get some increased awareness about the problem, and we’re hoping some people will volunteer.”

A local recreation center dedicated to sending positive messages to sexual minority youths, SMYRC exists under the umbrella program Vanguard Youth Services and serves as a resource center for local queer teens, said Ashleigh Flynn, development director.

“It’s a compelling, innovative program,” she said. “The reason we need SMYRC, why it’s so important is because it provides critical early intervention services and a place for youth to go before they hit rock bottom. It should be obvious to the community at large that queer youth have a great deal more issues to deal with.”

The center has been part of the Portland sexual minority community for four years, and is open to youth ages 23 and younger who identify as a lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or gay, with weekly drop-in hours four days a week.

Due to the higher instances of substance abuse and alienation, queer youths are in need of a positive, supportive environment where they can freely express themselves, Flynn said.

“They are more likely to drink alcohol and do drugs, and three times more likely to commit suicide,” she said. “Forty percent of homeless youths are homeless because they’re queer.”

SMYRC provides a location for local sexual minority youth where they can partake in such activities as playing pool, watching movies, cooking, using the Internet, taking an American Sign Language class and joining a specialized support group. Such groups range from Personal Deity Proxy, an art and writing group, to Miscellaneous Etcetera, a support group for transsexual, transgender, cross-dressing and questioning youth.

Other resources provided by SMYRC include counseling and individual support, employment resources, community activism and educational trainings, Flynn explained.

Despite overwhelming community support, the center is facing the possibility of financial hardship due to state budget shortfalls.

“SMYRC has pretty much sustained itself on county and state funds,” she said. “The state budget is in crisis. We haven’t leveraged support very well, and that’s what we need to do, or these services are going to go away, and that would be very sad.”

As the first development staff member to join SMYRC, Flynn is responsible for fundraising and explained that needed funds may reach $100,000 a year.

The most recent fundraiser took place on May 19, when Crush Wine and Martini Bar collected donations and gave their profits from martini sales to SMYRC during a one-night benefit. Future plans include an upcoming drag king show at the Cobalt Lounge, house parties, more work with local businesses and a large art auction fundraiser in September, Flynn explained. She is also pursuing grants in hopes of securing more funding,

“The community is really going to have to step up, especially the queer community,” she said. “If 2,000 people donated $25 a year, we would have half of that money.”

For more information regarding SMYRC, including donation and volunteer details, contact Flynn at 503-238-0769, Ext. 131, or e-mail [email protected]