Pride Northwest supports LGBTQ+ Incarcerated Youth: MacLaren Pride
In 2014 Pride Northwest was invited to be part of the first ever National Coming Out Day celebration, at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, in Woodburn. The idea, at first, was a bit intimidating; most of our small crew had never been inside a correctional facility and MacLaren has some pretty tight security. We had no idea what to expect but looked forward to connecting with LGBTQ+ young people, in a new-for us-environment.
What we found was a group of young people, facility staff, and volunteers celebrating each other and building community together. We had an amazing time, felt connected, and knew we wanted to return.
The idea of a MacLaren Pride celebration turned out to be a natural next step!
This year, MacLaren Pride held its fifth annual Pride and now includes youth from facilities as far away as Tillamook. We were joined by nine other community organizations, ranging from PFLAG and Basic Rights Oregon to The Living Room and Urban League of Portland. Sponsoring and participating in this annual celebration is an absolute highlight of the Pride season for us.
Folks may be surprised to know that there are a LOT of incarcerated LGBTQ+ youth, both in Oregon and throughout the United States. While LGBTQ+ identified youth make up 5-7% of the overall youth population, they account for 13-15% of youth in the corrections system (Youth First) around the country. Some studies estimate that number to be as high as 20%.
In addition to being at higher risk of harassment and abuse within the system, incarcerated LGBTQ+ youth are at much higher risk of not having supportive family or community ties upon release. Even in a community of people with shared identities and common experiences, there are still too many opportunities to exclude, to oppress, and to sit in judgement of others. Our incarcerated youth feel the impacts of those things.
From the first visit to MacLaren, it was obvious that being present there and ensuring that these youth know they have a supportive community of people makes a big difference. Spending time with our young people, supporting and engaging with them. Building community, making those connections, and strengthening the ties that we depend on as people to lift us up and carry us through rough times. These things allow us to build a stronger, more resilient community for all of us. Forming those bonds and building community that our LGBTQ+ youth can depend upon, whether inside or once they are finished there, has been some of the most far-reaching work that I think Pride Northwest has done-and will continue to do!