With PRIDE events in full swing and the U.S. Supreme Court turning the page on same-sex marriage, San Francisco high school students and slam poets Melanie Harra and Cameron Sandal are hoping to shine a light on the difficulties queer teenagers face, even in the city known as the gay capital of the world.

The two performed their poem “Whack-A-Mole” for KQED Arts’ cameras. Their creation is inspired by the rapid-fire arcade game of the same name, where players use a mallet to hit toy moles as they pop up from their holes.

Harra penned the poem with the first line, “Being a gay teenager is like playing a game of whack-a-mole, only we’re the moles.”

“It’s one of those ideas that just popped into my head and I just had to run with it,” explains the 16-year-old junior from San Francisco’s John O’Connell High School. She teamed up with Sandal, a fellow member of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance and Slam Poetry Club, to finish the piece.

Together they performed “Whack-A-Mole” at the Unified District Poetry Slam this Spring, and then at the Queeriosity Performance Showcase at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Queeriosity, a program of the arts education and youth development organization Youth Speaks provides a safe space for young emerging LGBTQ artists.

“It isn’t everyday that we get to witness poetry that is necessary for a poet’s survival,” said Indira Allegra, an Oakland poet and artist, when introducing the young queer poets who performed at the Queeriosity event.

Allegra led a six-week workshop with the youth, mentoring them in their writing and explorations of identity. “For many of the kids,” she says, “Queeriosity is a second coming out.”

“It’s been so freeing,” says 16-year-old Cameron. “It’s helped me focus my feelings on myself, rather than worrying about what other people think of me. I’m so much more confident.”


Funding for coverage of arts that explore social issues is provided by the California Arts Council.

When Being a Gay Teen Feels Like You’re Trapped in a Game of Whack-a-Mole 11 July,2015Kelly Whalen


Kelly Whalen

Kelly Whalen is a multimedia producer for KQED Arts.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor