San Mateo’s LGBTQ+ Youth Group allows members to show their true colors


Kasey Liu

Alexis Spalding, an intern at the San Mateo Pride Center, demonstrates how to fold paper boxes during the LGBTQ+ Youth Group.

The LGBTQ+ Youth Group provides a supportive community for queer teens around the Bay Area.

On Thursday, Jan. 9, the San Mateo Pride Center hosted a youth group that meets every week. Every week, this group meets to have discussions and hang out, which brings them a sense of community. For example, at the Jan. 9 meeting, the adults set up a box-folding station and a discussion circle for the youth that attended.

In contrast to some youth groups, which have dominantly religious agendas, the  LGBTQ+ Youth Group adapts their activities to fit the youths’ needs, according to staff member Kristina Pettegrow.

“I check in with them, and if, for example, they want to have a conversation about healthy relationships, I do research, I put it together, and we’re able to have that kind of conversation,” Pettegrow said. “I feel like it’s very youth-led; they get to figure out what they want, and we can provide it for them.” 

Alexis Spalding, an intern at the Pride Center, also feels a special aura and kinship within this youth group that she hasn’t felt with other ones. In the past, she was involved with substance abuse programs where she had to make a conscious effort to build a connection between the teens.

“The biggest difference is that here, everybody is really supportive, and there’s already a strong built-in camaraderie. It’s because we’re all in the same gay box,” Spalding said.

Pullquote Photo

Personally, I hope that I can be a model of a happy, queer, trans adult.”

— Kristina Pettegrow

The LGBTQ+ “box” has often been alienated from society, and organizations like these strive to provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ Community members to show their true colors. Everyone hopes to get something a little different out of the group, and some, like John Smith*, who just hope to make a few new friends.

“Around six months ago, I got out of boarding school, where I was in  treatment for about 17 months. I haven’t had a very strong community in California for a really long time, so I hope this gives me some of that,” Smith said.

Noah Hood, a sophomore at Carlmont who also attends the Youth Group, feels as though the vibes at the Pride Center and Carlmont are far from the same. According to Hood, everyone in the LGBTQ+ Youth Group almost immediately trusts each other since they know they won’t be judged. 

“There are very specific experiences that a cis or straight person would – or wouldn’t – have if they were queer. Here, you feel a lot more like you’re with people you understand and relate to, whereas at Carlmont, they only understand you,” Hood said.

Since everyone shares common struggles, they are able to connect with each other.

“Even though I’m totally comfortable with allies and teachers like Mr. Ramroth at Carlmont, it’s all – for lack of better words – queer people here, which makes me feel more comfortable,” said Parker Gates, a sophomore.

The staff members at San Mateo Pride Center constantly strive to create a strong community and be models for the youth. Neither Pettegrow nor Spalding grew up with queer resources, and both jumped on the opportunity to provide needed support for queer youth.

“Honestly, the biggest thing I want for them is knowing that they’re not alone. If the kids are having a hard day at school or home, just knowing that you’ll come to this place once a week and see people like you helps,” Spalding said.

Coming to the LGBTQ+ Youth Group indeed brings LGBTQ+ teens joy.

“It’s just…very gay. I love it,” Smith said.

*Due to the sensitive nature of the content, this name has been changed to protect the anonymity of the source.

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