After coming out as queer, Silas Maxwell Switzer craved a space in Pittsburgh where he could express himself creatively with other queer people. There was only one problem — as far as he could tell, no such place existed.
So he decided to make one.
About a year ago, Switzer, along with Robyn Goodfellow and Gray Valentine, founded Queerpunk Slamjunk in an effort to provide safe, welcoming spaces where LGBTQ youth can come together to develop and express their creative sides. The Facebook page for Queerpunk Slamjunk emphasizes that the project celebrates “radical and uncensored self-expression” and works to prioritize the voices of trans youth and youth of color.
“Not only did we want to create a space that was safe for queer youth to express themselves, we wanted to create a space that was free of any adult or parental figures as well,” says Switzer. “We wanted to give the community a space to say what they wanted, how they wanted, and to be met with ringing support from the people in attendance.”
On Sept. 1, Queerpunk Slamjunk will host its first tea party, a fun potluck-style event where guests can sip tea, both iced and hot, share food, and play games in Flagstaff Hill at Schenley Park.
The tea party adds to the series of open mics Queerpunk Slamjunk has hosted at The Big Idea Bookstore in Bloomfield.
Goodfellow agrees with Switzer that while there is a “caring and welcoming community of queer youth in Pittsburgh,” the city lacks youth-led, “genuinely non-judgmental” activities, events, and spaces, which makes groups like Queerpunk Slamjunk all the more essential.
In order to better serve the community, Queerpunk Slamjunk is open to ages 12 to 25, an aspect Valentine says distinguishes itself from other LGBTQ-focused groups and activities in the city.
“Many queer social outlets in Pittsburgh are strictly age-segregated, meaning they either have an age cap at 18 or 21, or they're an alcoholic space where no one under 21 can enter,” says Valentine. They believe this severely limits social circles for LGBTQ minors and young adults.
Currently, the completely donation-based Queerpunk Slamjunk is fundraising to apply for legal nonprofit status, which would allow them to apply for grants. Valentine says their long-term goal is to have a physical drop-in venue that includes a maker space, after-school events, and other resources for LGBTQ youth.
But for now, they’re looking forward to hosting their first tea party.
“This will mark the first event that we have had outside of our open mics, and we are incredibly excited to see how it turns out,” says Switzer. “If this tea party is received well by the community, we would love to make it a regular event.”