LGBQT+ teens find a place to be themselves at SAGA.

This time of year is full of transitions. The trees are covered in fresh green leaves, and the first days of summer are just around the corner. For many teens, that means turning to the Missouri River Regional Library to look up the latest releases in ebooks and audio titles, participate in digital learning courses for students, or maybe check out one of the many teen programs they offer. 

One group you might not be aware of is SAGA. SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Alliance) is a group started by LGBTQ+ teens and allies as a place where they can discuss issues important to them and where, no matter how they identify, they can feel free to be themselves.

Overseeing the group is Courtney Waters, teen services manager at Missouri River Regional Library. “I’m there to facilitate. That’s how I view my role,” she says. “I’m there to do what they need to be done, like making the room reservations, settling disputes — because that can happen — and helping them stay on task. I try to stay behind the scenes as much as possible and let them run the show.”

SAGA is a relatively recent addition to the library’s teen programming, but it’s been a passion project for all involved since day one. “It was an idea I had been toying around with, and I had been talking to some of my kids in Anime Club, and one in particular, mentioned, ‘Hey, you’ve been talking about starting this group up. When is that happening?’” Courtney says. A week later, the club was formed. “We had probably eight kids show up with ideas and wanting to really get this going!”

One idea that came out of those early meetings was to call the group SAGA. “One of the teens chose it. I try to let SAGA be as teen-driven as possible, so it’s truly not about me — it’s about the teens because they were the ones that wanted to start it,” says Courtney. “A lot of times the schools do a GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance], which is basically the same thing just with the letters rearranged. But SAGA seemed so much more appropriate for a library. I loved it as soon as it was suggested.”

“Knowing you’re not alone — that’s a big deal when you’re a teenager, too.”

Courtney Waters

SAGA currently meets each week via Zoom, where topics can range from their preferred gender pronouns to ways they can engage in local activism. One thing is obvious at all meetings: SAGA is about bringing people together.

SAGA gathers kids from all across the area, representing the parochial schools, public schools, high schools, middle schools, and homeschoolers from Jefferson City and other outlying communities. Everyone is welcome. 

“I know there are kids who have driven at least 20 to 30 minutes just to get to these meetings, and that seems like a big deal to me,” says Courtney. “I think a lot of it is that they just have fun together and look forward to seeing each other. Especially for the kids that don’t go to public schools or don’t have a school that has a GSA — I think that, for some of them, it’s the first time they’ve really felt validated and met other people that share some of the same experiences that they do.” 

Courtney continues: “Knowing you’re not alone — that’s a big deal when you’re a teenager.  I’d like to think that knowing there’s at least one adult in their corner is helpful, too.”

The teens of SAGA are effusive in their praise for the group. “Everyone loves you here!” says one. “You can say whatever you want and no one will say anything about it. Like, you can change your pronouns, and everyone will use the right ones!” gushes another. An older member, about to set off for their freshman year of college, says their favorite part of SAGA has been, “Creating a community for the people that will be here when I move on.”

As far as the community goes, the members of SAGA want you to know allies are welcome, too. “It’s not just a gay club. It’s a place for all people to come, have fun, and hang out. It’s a community.”

The future is bright for SAGA. They held their first event, a Pride March, in June 2019, followed by a wildly successful Valentine’s Day Dance this past February.  

When asked what the community could do to support the growth and mission of SAGA, Waters had this to say: “Listen to your kids. Even if you don’t understand their situation and you don’t understand why they’re suddenly telling you they’re not the gender you thought they were, or you know that their sexuality may be different, it’s worth learning about some of those nuances. Second, acknowledge that your kid is evolving and changing, and you know their identity may fluctuate, and that’s OK. But they’re definitely going to remember you not being accepting of that. That is something that will stick with them.”  

It can’t be stressed enough how joyful this group is when they come together, how frequently they use the word “community” to self-identify their relationship to one another, how fun it feels to be in their presence.

As Waters says: “They’re dedicated, they’re passionate, they’re smart, they’re funny. They’re just a great group of people that I am proud to be associated with.”*

*“They” is Webster Dictionary’s 2019 word of the year for singular pronoun.