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Spokane's Odyssey Youth Movement centers youth voices

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Odyssey Youth Movement
Odyssey Youth Movement

The Odyssey Youth Movement has been operating in the Spokane area for 32 years. What started as a support group for Gay and Bisexual men during the height of the AIDS crisis in the early '90s has grown and shifted to center all LGBTQ+ youth in the region.

"We are now focused on all young folks, specifically teens 13-18 and adults 18-24 from throughout the region. Of course, we've expanded to all LGBTQs, all Queer, Trans, and Nonbinary identities. The core of our mission around promoting equity is centered here at our drop-in center," said Executive Director Ian Sullivan.

"When you have a Queer identity, your options of trusted adults [to go to] can sometimes shrink pretty substantially..., which makes [youth] even more vulnerable to [certain] kinds of situations," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the youth drop-in center acts similarly to afterschool programs. Teens can meet new friends within the community but also access resources and programming, like food, a clothing closet with gender-affirming apparel and chest-compression binders, an art room for creative expression, and a library full of Queer literature.

The programming can differ each week, and is dependent on the needs and interests of the youth. Sullivan said it can range from a movie night to discussions about LGBTQ history and culture, healthy relationships, and safe sex. Odyssey partners with local organizations, like the YMCA for discussions on teen violence, for example.

Odyssey Youth Movement  

Serving youth
Odyssey served about 359 local youth last year. The drop-in center is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for age-specific programming for 13-18-year-olds. Thursday is dedicated to young adults ages 18-24 (18-year-olds can be in either group of youth).

"Most of our college campuses around town have really active student clubs, and even student offices with paid staff, so [there are more] options [for people] on their college campus, if they are connected to an academic setting like that," Sullivan said.

About two-thirds of participants fall into the teen category, Sullivan said. This year, Odyssey is focused on opportunities for growth via existing events.

"[We're] really ... making sure that our Pride events throughout June have teen- or youth-specific areas that really create a safe space for them to be at a larger event, but also celebrate them and help them build that community," Sullivan explained.

At Spokane Pride, which reels in around 30,000 attendees, Odyssey hosts a teen zone beneath a large tent, which offers activities, resources, snacks, and water.

"[We're] helping to connect folks, because a lot of the folks that visit us during that festival might be coming from a larger region," Sullivan added.

At the end of June, Odyssey hosts a smaller neighborhood Pride celebration, known as Pride Perry, and Sullivan hopes to grow the activities there as well.

"[We're] carving out bigger and better spaces for LGBTQ young folks, and doing so with support from our Youth Leadership Group, so they'll be helping to design what's happening, what the activities are, how we plan around it, and all that stuff," Sullivan said.

Odyssey Youth Movement  

Looking toward prom
The current Youth Leadership Group is leading Odyssey's Youth Queer Prom (https://www.odysseyyouth.org/prom) event on April 12 at the Montvale Event Center. The leadership group's membership changes throughout the season, but youth are a consistent, built-in voice that offers direct feedback and opinions on how to use the space to Odyssey staff.

About 215 youth attended last year's prom, which at the time moved from a Queer-friendly church basement to Montvale due to its growth.

"We'll have a dance floor with a live DJ, and the lights and fun glow sticks and all of the things you'd expect at prom," Sullivan said. "There will be a photo booth, and once they get in, everything inside is free of charge."

The prom will encompass two floors, with the dance floor on the upper level and crafts and activities tables on the lower level.

"A good chunk of our participants ... can get overstimulated, overwhelmed pretty easily. I think most humans get overwhelmed in a crowded, 200-plus-people [setting], and [there] was a youth ... conversation on how we can create additional spaces," Sullivan said.

With the rise in the cost of the event, as well as the cost of living, Odyssey wanted to keep the prom as accessible as possible: tickets are $10, and plenty of sponsor tickets are available if money is a barrier.