On a warm Saturday evening in late June, Amanda [not her real name], a transgender teen sat at an art table. She picked out an orange marker, pondered a blank piece of vellum and wrote, “Orlando.” She continued to draw, adding a purple and pink boarder and turning the “O” into a peace sign.
As the sun set over the Hudson River, two dozen young people, including Amanda, were gathered in the West Village churchyard of St. Luke in the Fields for “The Church”: Art, Acceptance, and a Place to Be Yourself, a program funded by Episcopal Charities which provides a safe space and services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. A week had passed since the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub. Amanda, a regular participant, and several friends gravitated towards an art table, which held sheets of vellum, votive candles, colored pencils, and markers.
An artist who works on staff invited the young people to respond to the tragedy by creating a hand-made candle cover. “It was a way to acknowledge something difficult,” said Giorgio Handman, Program Coordinator. “A trauma had happened to young, queer people of color. The art table created a circle for the young people to talk about it, and a way to be creative.”
Someone turned on some music – smooth jazz – and Amanda and her friends created several candle covers, decorating them with peace signs, hearts, rainbow flags, and simply, “Orlando.” A few drifted away to play basketball on the court on the other side of the church yard. Others joined an Uno game, or chatted with a social worker.
“These young people are constantly experiencing and navigating crisis,” said Giorgio. At the end of a week that began in tragedy and fear, Art and Acceptance provided a place to come together, play, and be creative.