When Emily Leeper’s then 14-year-old daughter Jackson confided in her that she was gay, she let her child know she would always love and support her.
“She said she wanted to be around other youth, who shared her experience,” Leeper said, “so I went online and tried to find some [LGBTQ] youth support programs, but there were none in San Antonio. I was shocked considering that San Antonio is such a big city.”
For the next several months, Leeper drove her daughter to Austin for LGBTQ youth group meetings. Finally, in 2013, she founded Fiesta Youth — a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth to express themselves while meeting new friends and participating in activities.
In September, Fiesta Youth celebrated its fourth anniversary. Since its inception, the organization has served more than 350 LGBTQ youth. Each week, about 25 to 30 of them, ages 12 to 18, meet at University Presbyterian Church (UPC) next to Trinity University, although Leeper pointed out that the nonprofit organization is not affiliated with the church. UPC, she said, has been kind enough to provide meeting space.
In addition to peer interaction, Fiesta Youth offers enrichment and educational activities, games and discussion groups, as well as guest presenters. “We focus on making it fun and positive,” Leeper said.
Fiesta Youth recently partnered with the San Antonio Public Library to begin hosting groups this fall at various library branches that will provide the same type of activities the organization provides at UPC. “We want to reach more youth in their neighborhoods,” Leeper explained. “There will also be a focus on LGBT literature by increasing access of LGBT books for teens.”
Additional plans for the organization include reaching out to area universities in hopes of establishing partnerships to serve LGBTG adults, 18 to 24. Already, Fiesta Youth provides $1,000 college scholarships and has thus far awarded six.
As a nonprofit, Fiesta Youth relies solely on donations to stay afloat. The organization hosts two annual fundraisers, including their annual Halloween party, Hocus Pocus, slated for October 21 at Arbor House Inn & Suites. The event features a costume contest, music and an open bar with beer, wine and specialty cocktails. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. For tickets, visit hocuspocussa.com.
Leeper, 48, maintains a double life, so to speak, serving as founder of Fiesta Youth and being employed full time by the Northeast Independent School District as a teacher for the blind and visually impaired, which includes teaching her students to read Braille.
Still, she always finds time to devote to Fiesta Youth.
“I see the benefit to youth who come to our meetings,” Leeper said. “Some are quiet, withdrawn, nervous and unsure of themselves, and then fairly quickly, we see them blossom. It really makes a difference for them to interact with other [LGBT] youth.”