presence: a zine for queer Frederick youth

A Peacemaking Project by James v.

What is the injustice we are solving?

Queer youth face a whole host of issues - we are more likely to be homeless, mentally ill, chronically absent from school, and simultaneously, less likely to have access to resources. In Frederick, Maryland this is extremely evident. Data by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that half of queer youth in Frederick, Maryland have an active plan to commit suicide. These are urgent problems in our community, and they have impacted the way we go to school, access healthcare, and thrive. We are a duo of queer trans artists who have been personally affected by these issues. Our project, presence: a zine for queer Frederick youth, is a creative response to the realities of our community. A zine is a independently produced magazine (zine for short), showcasing art and information. Our voices and experiences should be at the forefront of these conversations, rather than adults or “specialists” speaking on behalf of us. Our zine will be a submission based zine, calling from all parts of our conservative rural community. Frederick, Maryland has mountain towns, farming communities, and a small city center. We are a red county in a blue state, and for our friends and family, this means we can’t access the resources we need. Hormone replacement therapy, inclusive therapy and medical providers, and safe places of worship and education are all hours away from our town. We must bring awareness and urgency to this - and what better way than through art? The zine will encompass all the problems facing queer youth especially in Frederick, and how we have learned to survive and thrive amongst the issues in our community. Submissions will range from pieces of poetry, short stories, drawing, painting, and other mixed media. We will distribute the printed zines through the safe places we have found and in the hallways of our schools. We believe the art created by the most marginalized of our town should be spread widely and accessible to everyone. Because of this, the zines will be free, but donations will be accepted to cover the printing costs. We will also create an electronic PDF version to be shared with people everywhere. This zine is about the Frederick queer experience, but it is an important example of localized community organizing. Once the zine is finished, and organized by the two of us, we will hold an art show at the local library. We want to share the art in the zine, but also invite local artists to share bigger or different pieces in person with us. We will have physical art as well as performance pieces at our show. It’s important to us that we have a follow up show so we can continue to share our art, but also so we can distribute resources to those who need it. We are still in the planning process for the show; but some possibilities we have considered include a free clothing exchange for trans and gender non conforming youth, FAQs and information guides for queer people, and many more. We’d also like to provide a dinner/set of refreshments. It’s time for queer youth to tell our stories and for adults to listen. Will you join and support our voices?

Our Compassionate Solution:

To solve this injustice of local young queer pain in our town
we will address the silencing and ignoring of young queer voices
by sharing the art and work of young queer Frederick people to the general public

Our Project Plan:


  • Spread awareness of issues facing queer youth and develop a new sense of understanding.
  • Give queer youth in our town a new artistic platform to express themselves.
  • Give concrete resources to our queer youth community (food, clothing, financial support).
  • Bring queer youth together to bond and create new relationships.
  • Affirm and encourage young queer people in our town.
  • Disrupt the systems in our town that hold queer young people back.

We will increase my / our compassion by...

Consistently checking in with the artists we are working with, asking for strong feedback, and constantly checking our own privilege. We will show compassion by considering the perspectives and experiences of every person involved, and make sure our efforts are inclusive and accessible.

How will you show courage?

We will show our courage by challenging the expectations and comfort levels of our community. We will plan our art show and create art based on our needs rather than what our community wants or is comfortable seeing. We will not compromise on our identities and experiences.

How will you collaborate with others?

We will include the work of artists outside our own social networks, and reach out to every corner of our community. We will speak to the adults in our community, speak to the government and other artist networks in the area.

How will you know you are moving in the right direction? (What are specific ways you can measure your impact?)

We will know we are moving in the right direction when we ourselves feel empowered, and our friends feel happy with our progress. When we get to finally display and share the art of a diverse group of queer youth, then we will feel accomplished. We need many, many art pieces, and varying experiences to be truly effective.

Key Steps

  • Finish Peace First Grant.
  • Create timeline for zine.
  • Create timeline for art show.
  • Develop zine advertising.
  • Develop art show advertising.
  • Collect zine submissions.
  • Plan for art show.
  • Compile artist submission for show.
  • Compile zine.
  • Hold art show.
  • Sell zines.


How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?

Doing this project led to so many valuable, deep conversations between queer youth about trauma, suffering, and healing. A common theme throughout the work that was submitted to our zine and art show was growth, and we ended up learning a lot about how our peers dealt with institutionalized pain. Learning this helped us understand the thoughts of our community much better.

How did your community change as a result of your project?

We were brought together in a really beautiful, meaningful way that we had never been before. There is now a powerful infrastructure put in place that promotes art, sharing of young queer narratives, and honesty about institutionalized discrimination. There is also a platform for queer youth, and an expectation for similar events to happen in the future, run by the same as well as different people.

How many people were impacted by your project?


Explain how you came up with the number of people impacted by the project?

We estimate this number based on the number of messages we received about the project, the number of shares on our social media posts, and finally, the word of mouth. We posted our flyers and information all across town and interacted with dozens of people on a personal basis.

How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?

We learned by talking, sharing, listening, creating art together, and spending time together. There were a lot of conversations that took place during the submission process, as well as the advertising process.

What did your team learn?

We learned a lot of very, very, very important lessons about scheduling and planning. We spread ourselves WAY too thin throughout the process. We learned the importance of delegating tasks, being honest about problems we were having, and the importance of communication during the entire process.

What challenges did your team overcome?

We overcame personal issues - including mental health, bullying/harassment, and family conflicts. We had trouble balancing these personal issues, school work, work, and the zine/art show. There were a lot of missteps along the way with scheduling in particular. That being said, we overcame all of these things and still accomplished our mission!

How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?

We almost solely denied on others to submit their art. We did the work of organizing but really had to call on our community to create and share on our behalf. We also depended on others to advertise and spread the event with word of mouth.

What advice would you give to someone starting a peacemaking project?

Know what you're getting into! Don't overextend yourself. It's better to start small than doing something way too big. Don't over-estimate yourself, and do what you're capable of. Also, learn to depend on others to help you! You can't carry all the responsibility.

Our Updates:

we've scouted a location!

James v.
28 March 2018 15:03
just wanted to update any folks who may be following our progress - we've secured a space and we're really happy with the options it will give us. it's a central location in our town of frederick, so we are going to be accessible as possible. 

we're putting up our advertisements!!

James v.
18 April 2018 17:37
we just finished designing our flyers and we're about to post them around town! we're extremely excited to get this off the ground and running. more updates to come!

thanks Peace First for the fun Monday!

James v.
18 April 2018 17:42
this monday, we joined folx from the Peace First office and other youth activists to attend the Kennedy Arts Summit. it was a really interesting experience, and though it wasn't a very youth centered event, my partner Asher and I got some more ideas for Presence. we're so excited to finally have the ball rolling and to have the grant. 

WOAH! the art show is happening

James v.
24 April 2018 19:18
it's official!!! our art show is actually happening. we were able to secure another grant through a local organization to cover the cost of renting a space. that means for sure we can hold the art show and sell our zines! we're so excited right now and we can't wait to dig our heels in and really plan this out. 


Fish S. Peace First Staff
7 June 2018 0:12
Hi James!

Congratulations on finishing your peacemaking project! I’m on the Peace First team and wanted to say thank you for your amazing work and for taking time to share about your work.

Below you will find some feedback based on your Reflection, which we hope will help you to celebrate your incredible accomplishment and reflect on how to grow and develop your project in the future:

James, the work that Presence has already done is TERRIFIC. I appreciate you openly sharing the ways in which the work has been hard -- it always is -- but you and your team have brought about great things because of your commitment to making space for people to tell those stories. Sounds like you've learned great lessons about delegation and communication that you can apply to future projects. You might consider sharing some of the things you learned, and the practices you put in place, to help other young people dealing with the same challenges!

I'm really interested to hear more about what you've learned from your conversations about trauma, suffering, and healing. How does creating spaces for folks to make art help solve these problems? Are there ways your work can better support those needs? How will presence grow and change to fit what you've learned?

I'm really encouraged that you plan to continue the project -- and your attitude of "we'll do what's needed!" If you need help building a vision for what's next for presence, we are here to help with that. Just let us know, and we can bounce some ideas around! The spaces you've created are so important and we look forward to helping you think about how to sustain and expand those.

We hope you will stay in touch and keep us up to date as you continue your work to create change!

Sue D.
4 April 2018 14:46
Hi James! Congratulations! Your project has been selected to receive a Peace First Challenge mini-grant. We will be in touch soon with details about this payment.

The mini-grant process is also a space for you to get feedback on your peacemaking project. We hope you will use this feedback to further strengthen your project. Please see the feedback on your mini-grant below:

Strengths: This is a wonderful project that is addressing a very real injustice! Your insight is strong -- that the experience of queer youth in our communities can be isolating and extremely challenging. Your plan to address this by creating a space for queer youth to express themselves is really compelling. You've done a wonderful job of articulating how you will use courage, compassion, and collaboration in the process, have a solid job for measuring your success in place, and a great action plan for implementing the project! I think your plan to publish a zine and produce art shows in public spaces is a brilliant way to spread awareness and increase understanding.

Things to Consider: You may want to get more specific about how you will know you have achieved your goals. For example, how will you know others feel empowered and satisfied?

Congratulations and best of luck with your project!
Kelsey T.
26 March 2018 20:09
Hi James! We're excited to hear more about this wonderful idea to lift up the voices and art of queer youth. I wanted to let you know about an opportunity -- if you are interested in getting some funding for materials that you need to carry out your project, you can apply for a mini-grant of up to $250.

The deadline to submit your Project Plan and Mini-Grant Application is March 31st if you want to remain eligible to apply to attend a Peace First Accelerator.

As you craft your plan, be sure to consider the feedback we gave you on your compassionate insight, and check out our project planning tools for help turning your insight into a concrete action plan:

Then, through your dashboard you can make any changes you want to make to your "compassionate insight," record your plan in "Make a plan" and then "Apply for a mini-grant" for the materials you need.

Let us know if you have questions. We're looking forward to supporting your project!
James v.
7 March 2018 21:10
Thank you for the feedback Dalton!! We are having a team meeting soon to address what you mentioned and finish up planning. I think you make really good points and that research is definitely the next step we need to take to make our project really impactful! Best, James
Dalton B.
6 March 2018 11:30

I'm reaching out from the Peace First team to provide some feedback on your Compassionate Insight so that when you're ready to submit your Project Plan and Mini-Grant application, you'll be fully prepared!

Now on to the feedback...I LOVE this project! In your project description you highlight the main tenets of our definition of peacemaking - courage, compassion and collaboration. And not only that, you've thought of a creative, exciting and fun project that I think will be really powerful for you and your community. Awesome job!

I think to take this work to the next level, I'd love you to do some research on the power of hearing diverse stories. Can you find some data that shows how essential this work is? (I know this is essential, but it always helps to be able to prove it with hard facts!)

I'd also love to hear about what you see as the ultimate outcomes of this work - is it to reduce suicide/depression rates of queer people in your community? Is it to build tolerance and compassion in your community towards queer youth? A combination of the two? Something else completely? I think the more specific you can get in your desired outcome, the more helpful it will be when evaluating your effectiveness of your project.

Overall, I think you all have an incredible understanding of this work and I have no doubts this will be an awesome and impactful project. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns or would like additional feedback!

Adrian B.
31 July 2018 15:53
Hi James!

I wanted to check in and make sure that you knew about the first-ever Peace First Summit happening on September 16th in New York City. This event will lift up the stories of young people who are changing the world, right now.

We are flying out five young people who completed the Peace First Challenge to share their stories of change onstage, connect with Peace First fellows, get advice from a Brain Trust, and receive peer mentoring from a Peace First Fellow.

We want you (or a member of your team) to apply to be featured at the Summit! You can start your application right here: You must submit your application by tomorrow, Wednesday, August 1st. If you have any questions, please let me know!