Local LGBTQ+ advocate receives award for work building community

The Southeast Alaska LGBTQ+ Alliance will award a local advocate for spaces and support for queer youth with its Mildred Boesser Equal Rights Award on Sunday.

Meryl Connelly-Chew, who works for the National Alliance on Mental Illness- Juneau as a program coordinator, will receive the award for their community-based work around Juneau for LGBTQ+ youth.

“Alan (Grant) gave me a call yesterday, so I just found out,” Connelly-Chew said in a phone interview. “I feel really grateful that SEAGLA is recognizing some of the community based work we’re doing.”

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Connelly-Chew is involved in a number of projects around the queer community, they said, including Spectrum, a support group maintained by AWARE, as well as an ongoing partnership with the Zach Gordon Youth Center to maintain a scholarship to provide trans youth with gender affirming items.

Meryl Connelly-Chew is being awarded the Southeast Alaska LGBTQ+ Alliance’s Mildred Boesser Equal Rights Award on Sunday. (Courtesy photo / Meryl Connelly-Chew)

Meryl Connelly-Chew is being awarded the Southeast Alaska LGBTQ+ Alliance’s Mildred Boesser Equal Rights Award on Sunday. (Courtesy photo / Meryl Connelly-Chew)

“Meryl is a joy to work with. They are just a strong and steady support to all of these projects, and really determined to make these projects come to fruition, said Ty Shae, the ZGYC’s program coordinator, in a phone interview. “They’re diligent and determined and organized. They’ve really been a driving force for a lot of projects in town that people have been thinking and dreaming about.”

Partnerships, such as with Shae at the ZGYC, Chloey Cavanaugh for Spectrum, and David Abad at AWARE are essential to the mission, Connelly-Chew said. Growing up in Tenakee Springs, Connelly-Chew said the work they’re doing is to help support the youth and the community as a whole.

“For me, community-based work is what interests me. Queer community building is what matters most to me,” Connelly-Chew said. “In terms of my identity, I grew up in a really rural place. I didn’t know any queer people growing up. I didn’t know I was queer growing up.”

Connelly-Chew said they became involved in Spectrum while working in Bellingham, Washington, and brought it up to Juneau when they moved back in 2020. Connelly-Chew said they co-facilitate the group with Cavanaugh.

“Spectrum is a free, confidential, 12-week support group for anyone who falls under the LGBTQ2+ umbrella and has experienced trauma, whether recently or in the past,” Connelly-Chew said in an email. “Facilitating Spectrum has been incredibly healing for me, as a queer person who has experienced sexual trauma. Being with other people who have had similar experiences to me, and are on a healing journey, has helped me feel so much less alone.”

Connelly-Chew said they’re also working with the ZGYC for both the scholarship and for a workshop in August for trans youth heading back to school.

“We’re working together to have a scholarship for gender-affirming items for trans youth,” Shae said. “We’re also working on a trans self-advocacy workshop specifically around schools.”

The workshop is scheduled for Aug. 6 from 3-5 p.m., with more information being available on the ZGYC and NAMI Juneau social media, Connelly-Chew said. The scholarship, on the other hand, will be an ongoing project, Connelly-Chew said— people can donate through namijuneau.com, Connelly-Chew said.

“We started a scholarship fund to provide gender-affirming items for Juneau youth,” Connelly-Chew said. “It’s a really low-barrier way for youth to access gender affirming items. That can be lifesaving.”

The annual award is named after Mildred Boesser, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in Juneau who died in 2015. The award will be presented at the Pride Picnic at Sandy Beach, which runs from 12-4 p.m. on Sunday.

“Being a queer person and doing queer work can be really overwhelming sometimes. It can be challenging,” Shae said. “I think it’s very well-deserved.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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