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LGBTQ teens work the runway in a fashion workshop made for queer youth

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The news on LGBTQ issues has left some young people feeling alone. Some states have passed laws limiting discussion, removing books, defining genders. And in Colorado, the news includes the conviction of the person who shot and killed five people at a queer nightclub. Colorado Public Radio's Paolo Zialcita says one arts group is helping people to take pride.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PAOLO ZIALCITA, BYLINE: There's bumpy, bass-heavy club music emanating inside Boulder's public library tonight. Queer teens are putting on a fashion show and looks they designed themselves in a two-week workshop put on by Firehouse Art Center. Steven Frost helped organize it.

STEVEN FROST: It's now more important than ever to support queer teens and to let them know that they're loved.

ZIALCITA: Frost wants to combat the negative energy they feel looking at how queer communities are treated nationwide. They normally teach college students, but every summer, Frost dedicates two weeks to queer youth.

FROST: To let them know that there's many other people that have shared their experience in the world and to let them know that not all people in positions of power are against trans and queer teens.

ZIALCITA: The workshop teaches sewing and clothing design basics. And at the end, the teens celebrate identity and culture in a fashion show called Slay The Runway. Instructor LeeLee James says queer kids have always found comfort in fashion.

LEELEE JAMES: Fashion is inherently queer. It's inherently bolder. It's inherently different from what you would see every day. And I would even argue that we wouldn't have a fashion industry without queer people.

ZIALCITA: The kids love it. Fourteen-year-old Aura Charnick is inspired by the memory of punk fashion icon Vivienne Westwood.

AURA CHARNICK: I started doing more research on punk fashion and, like, a bunch of punk subcultures, and I really identified into it. So I started dressing like that more, and I figured this was a perfect opportunity to sort of make something inspired by that.

ZIALCITA: Charnick is one of more than a dozen teenagers designing, showing and displaying their creativity. Some, like Zi Salling, want their outfit to show the more delicate side of their personality.

ZI SALLING: I am working on, like, a Barbie princess-looking fairy thing. A lot of the times, I'm in a more gothic, deep grunge look. And then there's other times, like today and with this dress, where I'm more princess fairy. So I feel like it's just showing that I can express myself in just different ways, but I can still be the same person.

JAMES: Y'all ready for some fashion?

(CHEERING)

ZIALCITA: Dimly lit by runway lights, teens surrounded by various iterations of the pride flag each showcased two of their outfits.

JAMES: Models, if you're ready, let me hear you make some noise.

(CHEERING)

JAMES: Sounds like they're ready to pop this runway.

ZIALCITA: In front of their friends and family, the kids walked out to music they chose. Charnick, the punk-worshipping 14-year-old chose the song "Plump" by Hole.

JAMES: Next, from our Boulder group, we have Aura.

AURA: I guess I just try my best to be, like, confident 'cause the sort of punk spirit is, like, I don't care what anyone thinks of me. And so I try to, like, embody that.

ZIALCITA: For some of the more reserved teens, walking the runway was an opportunity to shed their skin and embody their true selves. Here's Dez Calnaido.

DEZ CALNAIDO: My second one, I was in drag. And I think for me, like, when I'm in drag, I have much more confidence because it's like - it's a drag persona.

ZIALCITA: After about an hour, the runway lights turn off, the show ends and the library goes back to feeling like a library. The teens are allowed to take their outfits home. For them, the world is a runway.

For NPR News, I'm Paolo Zialcita in Boulder. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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