Letter from the Facilitator

I started volunteering at The Attic by facilitating a group on Musical Theater in the spring of last year. I had no idea what to expect: who are these youth? what’s their story? where are they from? will this resonate with them? My mind was reeling with ambiguity. There is nothing comparable to The Attic in Colorado, where I grew up. Yet, with a passion for education, challenges, and all things LGBTQQIAA, I blindly signed onto the most rewarding fulfillment I’ve ever come to know.  

Having a lifelong gratitude to theater, an arsenal of material, and nothing to lose, I split the group into three units: Race, Queer, and Historical/Political theater. My first group focused on the intricacies of The Wiz. We started off sitting in a circle and all eyes fell on me: in my head I was shouting expletives at this newfound authority. The iconic Attic youth, Kemar, who had been assigned to help me facilitate, announced, “We usually start off by going around the group and say our name and preferred pronoun.” Internal expletives of amazement begat my trepidatious introduction. In a single breath the youth would know my name and preferred gender-neutral pronoun? The closet to Narnia was opening before my very eyes. Having come full circle, I introduced the mission of the “I Am What I Am” Musical Theater Creative Action Group and began our dissection of The Wiz. The seventy-five minute group was over as quickly as it had began. Over the next ten weeks, I discovered a group of thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate, hilarious, multi-layered individuals who defied society’s oppression, ignorance, and judgment. I left The Attic that Tuesday, April 3, 2012 on a euphoric high that I haven’t come down from yet. 

In the next six months, I learned that not only was this a place where people were encouraged to be themselves and celebrated for their individual differences, but The Attic was actively creating new ways to eradicate transphopbia, biphobia, and heterosexism in our community. We weren’t merely having thoughtful discussions about how to change systemic oppression; we were encouraged to act on those conversations to make our world more inclusive. I’d found my heart’s song.

That December, I found out that The Attic was coming upon its twentieth anniversary. After the wave of amazement that this institution has been around for so long, I knew it was cause for celebration. But, how? In telling people about my experiences with The Attic I have to explain what The Attic is, more often than not. For the longest time, The Attic had to be a secret. It had to be a safe haven where youth could go to find safety, support, community, and themselves. But our culture is constantly morphing. I have to remind myself that youth are coming out at younger ages, identifying within the gender and sexual diversities spectrum is becoming increasingly socially acceptable, and new equality legislation is being passed at every turn. The Attic doesn’t have to be a secret any longer. After two decades, it is now possible, to slowly start to pull back this protective shroud and share in the unrepeated contributions that The Attic gives Philadelphia’s community.

The stories of the youth I have encountered in The Attic have changed my life, my very understanding of humanity. These narratives demand to be celebrated and given their chance to no longer be silenced. I created “TWENTY” to give a platform to this spectacular voice. I do nothing in group but listen and organize the logistics of getting their message out to the world. We spent two months thoughtfully discussing what we love about The Attic and things we’d like to change. I then took that list and sat down with each member of “TWENTY” individually and asked them to share their experience. The videos you see here are a direct result of these conversations. 

The Attic sees, on average, 1,000 different youth walk into our cozy downtown space, every year. Capturing the diverse and distinct narratives, services, and programs The Attic sees each day is impossible to characterize in a single video. “TWENTY” has a goal of creating twenty videos this year. Detailing the life of LGBTQ youth, The Attic, and Philadelphia, “TWENTY” seeks to enlighten audiences to our experiences for the first time in twenty years. 

The world of The Attic is a phantasmagorical home of compassions, thoughtfulness, enthusiasms, debates, challenges, and above all: love. It’s serendipity that the first group I facilitated focused on “Home” from The Wiz; a song that so closely resonates to how I’ve come to understand The Attic: “Living here in this brand new world might be a fantasy, but it’s taught me to love, so it’s real to me. And I know we must look inside our hearts to find a world full of love, like yours, like mine, like home.”

Here’s to twenty more years,

 

Randy Grishow-Schade