Every Monday throughout June, The Byrd Theatre will celebrate Pride Month with #MonGays, a series spotlighting the LGBTQ community. This week, Saturday Church brings us an up-close look at the joys and struggles of LGBTQ youth.
Did you know that just 9% of young people identify as LGBTQ, yet queer kids account for roughly 40% of youth experiencing homelessness? Ted Lewis did. As the Executive Director of Side By Side (formerly known as ROSMY), Lewis is intimately aware of the challenges which face children who aren’t both straight and cisgender. Their experience working in queer inclusion stretches across a decade of professorial as well as administrative positions at UNC Charlotte and the University of Richmond before they finally landed at Side by Side three years ago.
Although public opinion towards the queer community has shifted drastically over the last several years, that doesn’t mean the LGBTQ community no longer faces persecution or prejudice. “With the tremendous progress our community has made, it can be difficult to remember that our LGBTQ+ youth still struggle with acceptance from their families, and sadly are often kicked out or separated from their family of origin,” saidd Lewis. Children represent an especially vulnerable population of queer individuals, as they lack the means to support themselves and are often still trying to figure out who they are.
When Virginia Pride first approached Lewis about sponsoring the third week of MonGays, Lewis realized a screening at the Byrd Theatre, Central Virginia’s premier destination for film, would “allow the audience to see inside a community or experience different from their own. Movies can help explain cultural differences, educate, and build empathy. We were excited to participate in MonGays, because it provides our community with a unique experience to better understand our youth and their needs.”
Saturday Church, a film by director Damon Cardasis, follows the tale of teenage Ulysses, a shy and effeminate boy, struggling with the responsibilities of being the “man of the house” after his father’s passing. Surrounded by his conservative family, Ulysses struggles with his gender identity, coping through his creation of a fantasy world filled with dance and music. After Ulysses meets a transgender woman and is brought to “Saturday Church,” a program for LGBTQ youth, his life becomes more joyful as well as complicated. He hides his love of voguing and the NYC ball scene from his family for as long as he can, until he’s forced to decide who he wants to be, even if that means risking his relationship with those he loves most.
“Side by Side was looking for a film that highlighted the work we do specifically around family rejection and experiences of housing instability, but we also wanted a film that was fun and filled with joy!” explained Lewis. “Saturday Church is a beautiful film that highlights both the struggles of coming out and facing rejection, as well as the joy we feel when we find communities of support. We wanted a film that highlighted this journey while also showcasing the beauty of someone coming into their authentic self.”
Ulysses’ story is all too representative of the journey many LGBTQ youth in Central Virginia are forced to undertake after they are kicked out of their family homes for who they are and/or who they love. Recently Side by Side, along with their partners at Nationz Foundation and the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, launched a new Host Homes Program to connect LGBTQ youth aged 18-25 who are experiencing homelessness with stable, safe, and affirming housing. “We work to ensure they have wrap around services and a community of support to get them to stability and a more permanent housing situation,” elaborated Lewis.
“One screening of an affirming film like Saturday Church won’t change the fact that queer youth are 120 percent more likely than their heterosexual/cisgender peers to experience homelessness, but it may be enough to inspire one family to take in a child,” added Wyatt Gordon, Creative Director of MonGays. “It may be enough to convince one kid that happy, stable homes are out there, or at least provide one evening during which they leave their worries behind, much like Ulysses does in the film.”
To Lewis, tonight’s screening of Saturday Church presents an opportunity to shift the way society thinks about protecting and caring for LGBTQ youth. “We hope the audience takes away that they play a key role helping our young people not only survive, but thrive,” they said. “Community care is what we need right now, and this film beautifully illustrates how community can come together to provide support, possibility, and love for our young people.”