The Queer and Trans Youth Music Project (QTYMP) wants youth programs in the hands of the youth themselves. The project was birthed out of the legacy of Queer Rock Camp in 2016 and is a fiscal sponsee of the Vera Project. Under the umbrella of QTYMP are Camp Emerald and Rogue Rainbow. Camp Emerald is a week-long summer camp in Seattle where queer and trans youth ages 14 to 21 learn to play an instrument, join a band and perform in a show on the final night. With support from other members of the QTYMP leadership team, Grey Ellis started Rogue Rainbow because “We wanted to do some year-long programing so youth could have year-round support and we could get more youth leadership and voice in our program.”
On Saturday, March 2, Rogue Rainbow will have their first fundraiser, A Clothing Swap! at Gay City from 12-5pm. People are encouraged to come and take or bring as many clothes as they want. Gay City is a scent-free space so donated clothes must be washed in a scent-free laundry detergent. The suggested donation for the event is $5-$25 but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
“We’re asking for folks who are able to give a donation to Rogue Rainbow so the youth can plan future events where they can offer sliding scale down to zero,” Grey says.
Rogue Rainbow is a group of about 10-12 queer and trans youth that meet biweekly year round. One week’s meeting is a fun event and the alternating week is a planning meeting. Topics include the group’s Instagram and future website as well as fundraising events like the clothing swap. Though Grey strives to have more than one queer or trans adult at the meetings to foster intergenerational community, they make it clear that the adults aren’t in charge. Rogue Rainbow is very much youth-led. It’s less “Teach the Children” and more “Let the youth teach and lead themselves.”
“What made me want to work with QTYMP was just youth empowerment. One of [our] missions is collective liberation,” Grey explains. One of the key ways the project reflects that is all programs “have to be sliding scale down to zero. Youth have to be able to come to our programs, whatever we put on, regardless of how much money they have or if they’re ‘out’ to someone who’s gonna be able to pay for them to go.”
For the week-long Camp Emerald, the project seeks to dismantle any barriers that could keep youth from attending. They find homes that can host campers from out of town or Seattle houseless youth so they can have a place to stay for the week and meals to eat. The camp also provides meals during the programs themselves. Access to housing, money or food should never be deciding factors for youth attendance.
Grey’s ties to youth empowerment go back to their first involvement in Queer Rock Camp in 2013. They began organizing with the group in 2015. “Music has always been a release for me and I get to express my emotions even if I’m not technically good. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s about getting my voice out there in the world. QTYMP wants to do that for youth,” they say.
They were active from 2011-2014 in Olympia-based bands Nancy Drew Pentagrams and Hot Fruit, “the least technically proficient band I’d ever heard but we did that on purpose.” Members ramped up the camp, making music videos and playing out fantasies of celebrity, breaking those roles and poking fun at themselves. Both bands’ penchant for performance and silliness is close to a core ethic of QTYMP: “Dare to be Dorky.”
Grey collaborated with other members of Hot Fruit to shoot and make the score for “The Hoard,” a “horror film that has a happy ending.” Working with Butter Ball and Katya Rubinshteyn, Grey debuted “Sick Bed” at Tuf Fest in 2017. The installation is “a soft bed that’s surrounded by beautiful pill bottles that are decorated in beautiful reflective materials,” they say. Whether in music, screen printing or installation, Grey’s art explores themes of the body, chronic illness, ritual, celebrity and identity, especially in relationship to technology and social media.
Expression through art and music makes the world feel “a little safer or more manageable,” for Grey, something they want queer and trans youth to experience. “Youth are amazing and have amazing, brilliant things to say. It’s really inspiring to witness them.”
Donations specified for QTYMP, Rogue Rainbow, or Camp Emerald can be made through the Vera Project, which is a 501(c)(3) organization.
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