NORTH LIBERTY — Shaky crashes of a drum sound off from a classroom on the first floor of North Central Junior High School. A voice sings out, echoing off the lockers to mingle with the instrumental and then gets louder as a student dances down the hallway.
From Monday to Sunday, this space has been open for the nine participants of the first Pride Rock camp, to make it whatever they please.
Pride Rock is an offshoot of the Girls Rock Iowa City camp, which started about five years ago. This camp is geared toward members of the LGBTQ community ages 12 to 18.
“I was really into that idea as someone who identifies as such,” said co-founder E Kuehnle, 26, who had worked with Girls Rock for about three years.
Kuehnle noted the “girls” part of the name may be disconcerting to those whose gender identity does not align with that label. Pride Rock aims to ensure they feel included and validated in their identity, Kuehnle said.
“It’s nice to have your own space to really be with people who you know share some sort of experiences with you,” Kuehnle said.
Research shows LGBTQ youths face fear of prejudice in their homes and communities and are three times more likely to experience a major mental health condition, such as depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. LGBTQ youths face higher rates of suicide, violence and substance abuse than the rest of the same-aged population.
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“This is kind of a space where they can participate in community and create community they can carry with them outside, and also make music,” Kuehnle said.
Co-founder Nat Finnegan-Kennel, 20, said work started to bring the idea of Pride Rock to life last August. Finnegan-Kennel had been involved with Girls Rock since its inception and wanted to create a space for LGBTQ youths to express their identities.
“When you have somebody respect you and affirm you, it teaches you what that feels like,” Finnegan-Kennel said. “When we live in a world that does not do that outright, it can really help you show as an example, this is how you should be treated.”
Participants had the opportunity to attend workshops to give them concrete examples of proper treatment and ways to combat unfair behavior, Finnegan-Kennel said. Workshop topics ranged from consent to body positivity, and participants had the chance to lead their own workshops as well.
Other activities for the day included instrument lessons, songwriting, dance workshops and band practice.
The camp culminates in a showcase this afternoon at Studio 13, the Iowa City bar that caters to the LGBTQ community. Two bands within the camp will perform songs. Fewer bands allows them more control over what they can do when performance time arrives, Kuehnle said.
On Sunday, participants will head to the studio to record the songs they’ve created, Kuehnle said.
Participant Clayton Lindhorst, 14, of West Branch said coming to this camp has affirmed his identity.
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“Ever since I came out as trans, it hasn’t been the most affirming space, especially because of the name,” he said of participating in Girls Rock. “I felt somewhat alone that there weren’t people like me there. Having that more authentic and affirming label and being around more people who have gone through the same thing is very, very helpful.”
The camp offers a space for people who have found themselves on the same journey to come together, Lindhorst said, and along the way, they’re able to learn an instrument they may not be familiar with.
Lou Spinner, 13, of Iowa City had positive experiences in Girls Rock and was encouraged to join Pride Rock.
“It’s good to have, especially because Pride Rock is for older people. It’s good to have a separate space just for them,” Spinner said. “Teenagers are going through a lot and also being LGBT+ ... it’s an added stressor.”
Lindhorst is looking forward to showing off his confidence when he hits the stage, and is eager to share music.
The LGBTQ community has come far and made a lot of progress, but there still is a ways to go, Lindhorst said. This camp, he said, is one way to show others that making music is within their reach, too.
“After we get there, it’s going to be beautiful,” he said. “It’s going to be a world where anyone can say, ‘Hey, I see someone who’s kind of like me. They experience the same things I do, and they’re completely valid, and people like them, so I’m not so alone after all.’ Hopefully I get to experience that kind of a world.”
If you go
• What: Pride Rock camp showcase
• When: 3 p.m. today; doors open at 2:30 p.m.
• Where: Studio 13, 13 S. Linn St., Iowa City
• Cost: $5 suggested donation; free to all youths
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