For several years, 16-year-old Girl Scout Jianna Miller knew she wanted her Gold Award project to be a Pride March for teens. (If you haven’t heard, the Gold Award is the highest award for Girl Scouts, in which individuals address issues in their community by making lasting change and putting in over 80 hours of work.)
This goal stemmed from her passion to support other people. “I want kids in my area to know that there is a community for them or for people like them,” she said. “I’ve seen how lost LGBTQ kids can feel in Davidson County, and a community is exactly what they need to start healing, along with adequate mental health care and familial support.”
LGBTQ+ mental health is a serious and prevalent issue. LGBTQ+ teens are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression, more than twice as likely to feel suicidal, and over four times as likely to attempt suicide compared to heterosexual teens.
And why do they struggle so much? Bullying. Harassment. Chronic stress from the fear that their loved ones will reject them. As Miller mentioned, LGBTQ+ teens often feel hurt and alone.
Knowing the impacts that queerphobia has on LGBTQ+ people, Miller put a lot of work into making sure this event would happen. “I met with the city manager, had several meetings with PFLAG, organized a team of around 10 other teens to help, I’ve created lots of designs and graphics,” she said. “I put a lot of work into my proposal. Like a lot.”
PFLAG is the nation’s first and largest organization that unites LGBTQ+ people with parents, families, and allies. There’s a PFLAG chapter in Lexington. This organization provides support groups, advocacy, education, love, and more—which can be life-saving to people in the queer community.
After all of that organizational work, mentors edited Miller’s proposal, and she met with Girl Scout committee members, who asked objective questions. She felt confident—a trait she says is important in Girl Scouts—and her hard work paid off. The committee approved this project as her Gold Award. She’s thankful for her friends, mom, pastors, PFLAG members, and other community members for their support.
The Teen Pride Parade will be on Saturday, June 4. Here’s how it will go: At 1 p.m., participants will gather on St. Stephen United Methodist Church’s lawn to make signs that express their beliefs during the walk. At 2 p.m., they’ll walk on the sidewalks in uptown Lexington. Then, they’ll return to the First Reformed United Church of Christ (FRUCC) Fellowship Hall at 3 p.m. to hear from speakers—including Rev. Elizabeth Horton, Rev. Dr. Arnetta Beverly, a representative from PFLAG, and Miller herself—as well as engage in community building activities. Snacks will be provided.
These two church locations were chosen purposely and because of their backgrounds. In the 1960s, St. Stephen was a place not only for worship, but also for civil rights movement meetings and planning sessions. Meetings took place there and at other Black churches in Lexington. Additionally, groups there gave clothes, shelter, and food to local families.
In June 1963, after 15 Black people were denied access to the Carolina Theater and Lexington Lanes Bowling Alley, a crowd gathered and dispersed with no incidents. The next night, a white mob formed near St. Stephen.
As far as FRUCC, it’s an open and LGBTQ+ affirming church where Miller is a member.
While this event will only last a few hours or so, that’s (hopefully) not the end of pride marches in Davidson County. Miller is helping to make sure of that.
“Gold Awards are supposed to be a sustainable thing, so I hope that with the educational materials and guidebook I provide to PFLAG, they’ll be able to continue holding their own marches or aiding others,” she said. “I’ll be in town for another two years before I move away for college, and I hope to [be] involved if they do any more marches.”
Events like this one are the kind of support many LGBTQ+ teens need. According to the Human Rights Campaign, people can support LGBTQ+ youth by listening to them, being kind and inclusive, allowing them to be themselves without judgment, creating safe spaces, and staying both informed and active—which is what this event allows for. And with young people like Miller out there, who are filled with drive, passion, and empathy, I have hope.
Ashley Broadwater is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she studied Public Relations in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She’s passionate about mental health, body positivity, relationships, Halloween, and Dad jokes.