While it is officially called LGBTQ+Allies Youth at the Helm, may people call this program Queerwater. The name originated in the Eighties when the first large cohort of out LGB crewmembers worked on the Clearwater. When the crews of other boats in the area started calling the boat Queerwater in response, this crew embraced the name and now it serves as the unofficial name of our youth empowerment programs for the LGBTQ+ community.
Donkey Dover, Jr.:
I was inspired to launch the YEP Queerwater program in 2009 because Clearwater was the first place I felt I could bring my whole self to work. As I learned more about the sloop’s history, I learned that I wasn’t alone. For the first program, I reached out to LGBTQ+ former crew and board members to build a curriculum that would share the magic we’d found aboard with queer and questioning youth. My fondest memory of the first sail came out of the Identities Watch, a part of the program that offered participants a chance to reflect on their own identities while learning about the history of queer community building and direct action. Each youth drew an “identity tree” on a scrap of colored fabric that represented both who they were and who they hope to grow to be. During the final moment of silence on board, we ran the fabric up the flag halyard, boldly declaring ourselves for everyone to see. Whether their whole selves were celebrated, acknowledged, or even allowed in other parts of their lives, the youth aboard the inaugural Queerwater sail could see that they were accepted as shipmates aboard this fine and splendid sloop.
For the last three years I’ve had the honor of organizing and running Clearwater’s LGBTQ+Allies Youth at the Helm program, which we affectionately call Queerwater. I’ve never experienced a program like it anywhere else, not as an educator or a participant. By providing a welcoming, no-judgement space staffed by LGBTQ+ and ally crew and supported by the broader Clearwater community, we create a space that most of the participants have never experienced before; one where they can exist as themselves, talk about tough issues, and make connections with others within a community that they may not have in their daily lives. The best thing for me is to watch them open up over the course of the program as they become comfortable with Clearwater, join the community, and gain more confidence in themselves. Every year our crew has told me that this is exactly the kind of program they wish they had had access to when they were teens, adults often ask when we’re going to run a similar program for adults, and participants keep returning for another chance to experience Queerwater.
If the recent Youth Climate Strike has taught me anything, the fight against climate change will only work if everyone is included. Through Clearwater’s Youth Empowerment Programming, we are making sure that youth from marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+ community, understand their stake and find their voice in the movement. I am so excited to be a new Clearwater Board of Directors member and to be able to help keep the Queerwater program going. I have volunteered on-board the sloop the past three summers for Queerwater and look forward to it all year round because of all the wonderful people involved and the positive atmosphere. I hope you will donate to support the future of this wonderful program on National Coming Out Day (October 11th).