One of the most daunting parts of being a young person who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, or someone who is questioning their sexuality or gender identity, is not being able to find people who are similar to you. LGBTQ+ students often have trouble finding communities. As someone who attended a Catholic high school, I found that there were not many resources or support systems put in place for LGBTQ+ students. It was never openly accepted or supported at my school and students, including myself, were often left feeling isolated in that environment. However, it was through that school that I found a community that acted as a safe space for LGBTQ+ students while also being an outlet for open communication and ideas within the school environment that helped push progress and facilitate difficult conversations. Through a school sponsored poetry club, a group of students decided to form a slam poetry competition team, which led to becoming a part of the Massachusetts slam poetry community. This community provided an outlet for students of all backgrounds and allowed them to speak their truth in an accepting and nurturing environment.
The idea of slam has its foundations in acceptance, equality, and community. In the youth competitions such as the ones I attended and participated in in Boston and Lowell, the focus was on young people being heard, listened to, and valued for their contributions. Although there was a competition aspect, it was emphasized that the main focus of the event was the poetry itself. Acceptance was so central to the message of the organization, competitions, and the art itself, that it was never questioned in anyone’s pieces. In such an open and nonjudgmental environment, many young people feel comfortable enough to “speak their truths”. This ultimately means that there are a lot of poems about personal experiences and identity. Many of the poems I wrote and performed were about personal experiences I had; I wrote and performed poems about addiction in my family, mental health struggles, my mom’s battle with cancer, and other things. It was also quite common for someone to speak about LGBTQ+ issues, either personal or societal, in poems and it made it a safe space for people to share their art about their experience. The content of the poems was part of what helped foster a space where vulnerability was accepted, and helped many people write about their own experiences.
Slam is not an exclusively LGBTQ+ community but it is a very inclusive space, and there is a LGBTQ+ community there if you need it. There are resources and mentors and adults who you can relate to and who offer constant support. It was a far different environment than my small, religious school, and it truly offered me a different view on community and acceptance. I found a group of friends through this community that helped me grow as a person, and who later supported me in coming out. It was through this community that I found self-acceptance, and a community of people who accepted me without hesitation, even when I was unsure about who I was yet. It was a space that allowed me to be exactly as I was, and to contribute to an artistic community using my personal experiences.
Not only community, but these competitions were an amazing source of education about LGBTQ+ topics. This was the first place where I ever saw and participated in introducing yourself with your pronouns. This was a completely new concept to me, and it opened the doors for me to gain a deeper understanding of gender as a societal construct, and how it was more than the surface level understanding I had of it. Again, the content of poems can often be about social justice related topics. There are often poems that provide intersectional views on certain topics, and without a doubt, I have learned more about LGBTQ+ history, culture and struggles from this community than I have ever in school or in any other environment.
This is all to say that slam poetry as an art and as a community has provided more support regarding LGBTQ+ issues than any other community that I’ve experienced in my life. It bridged an important gap for me, as well as for many others. Through these experiences, the team I was part of was able to bring light to topics in our school environment that had never been addressed previously, including the acceptance and advocacy of LGBTQ+ students. It played a major role in my life as a place that allowed me to figure out who I was, and it allows so many people, especially young people, to find their voices.