Community Work Spotlight

Spotlighting Your Work!

The Community Work Spotlight is a place where you can share news about the work you are doing with LGBTQ+ young people and their families. To submit information about your program or nominate the work of others, please email us at SOGIECenter@UConn.edu.

Growing up can be tough for any teenager, but for those who are queer it can be a struggle. A local program hopes to change that by creating a safe and affirming place for LGBTQ+ youth. The Queer Youth (QYou) Initiative at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland is a safe and affirming place for LGBTQ+ youth ages 11-20. “So, we basically create a safe space for our youth where they can find community and meet other youth. And, they also have adults, queer adults, who they can interact with and just see that representation in the world,” said Carmen Recchia, QYou coordinator. At QYou, staff work to collaborate and provide youth with a network of support and opportunities to express themselves, make new friends, and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Programs include a virtual after school drop-in, leadership training, a queer arts group, and a zine where youth can share their artistic endeavors with the community.

Being a teenager is tough. Being a teen in the LGBTQ+ community can feel isolating or even scary. That’s what drove Layne Filio, a behavioral health therapist at UPMC, to create a 10-week group therapy program for kids ages 13-18 at UPMC Western Behavioral Health. Teens can meet in person or virtually to discuss topics like coming out, gender identity, body positivity, and distress tolerance with their peers and counselors. The group has been a goal for Filio, who pitched the program to UPMC during her job interview in February 2021. “There are not a lot of group therapy options for LGBTQ+ youth in Pittsburgh,” says Filio. “I think there should be more. As a member of the community — if I were a teen and this group were available, I would have really wanted to do that.”

As the youth group members trickle onto the video call, Joshua Baker tries to keep things light. “Thank you for momentarily gracing us with your beauty,” he tells DaQuon, who turns off their camera as soon as they join. But when Peyton says they’re feeling exhausted, Baker can’t help but acknowledge: In many parts of America, it is not an easy time to be young, Black, and queer. “Within the context of everything that’s going on in the world,” Baker says on this sweltering July afternoon, “everything just feels kind of heavy.” Baker oversees the Youth Ambassadors, part of a nonprofit that serves and is led by Black queer people in Alabama. At 25, he is not much older than the teens in his group, yet he calls them his babies. Nurturing comes naturally to Baker, who cared for his ailing mother while in high school and then earned a master’s degree in social work. And nurturing, he believes, is what these young people need now. This program is one component of The Knights & Orchids Society, or TKO. The nonprofit was founded a decade ago by Quentin Bell, a Selma native who is transgender, and his wife Jennine, to serve other Black trans and queer people in Alabama. Today the group provides free services ranging from gender-affirming medical care to food and housing assistance, in line with its leaders’ mantra: “We are the help we need.”

This free camp brings together young West Virginians either identify as LGBTQ+ or come from LGBTQ+ families from across the state, and give them the tools they need to organize and advocate for the issues they care about. Campers learn how to talk to legislators, run effective meetings, tell powerful stories, and more, and participate in a collective action to better the lives of LGBTQ+ people after the camp concludes. Perhaps most importantly, AQYS campers get to be themselves for a weekend around people who understand them. What makes the camp so special is that it presents a rare opportunity for West Virginians to find a makeshift community in their struggles, one where trauma and joy converge to create something altogether new: healing.

Rainbow artwork glued to a red brick wall marks the beginning of a ramp that leads to a large, gray door tucked in a corner and hidden from busy South 16th Street in Center City, Philadelphia. Behind the door is The Attic Youth Center, a colorful space designed to welcome LGBTQ+ youth in the Philadelphia area, help them feel comfortable and give them a chance to be around other people their age, according to Jasper Liem, interim executive director. "Even if they go to a school where there are other LGBTQ youth or students, it’s different to be in a place where you know everyone is part of your community," Liem said. The Attic, which serves youth between the ages of 14 and 23, offers counseling, distribution of hygiene products, a food pantry, housing placement, LGBTQ training to outside organizations and businesses, and after school programming, all of which are entirely free.

LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness can have a harder time finding the resources they need to live on their own, and Bryant’s Bridge is working to change that. Increasingly, homeless people in Knox County are under the age of 18. While only seven people live in the home right now, it’s at full capacity and Bryant said there’s a waiting list. Donors have pre-paid all the bills for the first year of this house, and once the tenants get on their feet, they’ll start paying a low rent fee. This is longer-term housing, meaning tenants can stay here for one to five years, and the waitlist will just keep growing without additional housing. Bryant hopes more funding and community support will open more space to welcome more LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness.

Here’s a riddle: What goes from 250 to 3,500 and does it in three years? Answer: The square footage of the Colors+ Youth Center in Fairview Park, the only LGBTQ+ youth center combined with mental health services focused solely on LGBTQ+ young people and their families in Northeast Ohio. It’s a two-for-one organization that holds space for some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community — kids aged 11 to 19. Colors+ is the creation of Kristen and Lisa Pepera, a married team of licensed professional clinical counselors. In January 2019, Colors+ Youth Center opened its doors to offer counseling in a two-room, 250-square-foot space. Kristen reflects, “You know, when we started out, we thought — even if we help just one kid, it will be worth it.” However, they’ll be helping many more than that, as in November 2021, The Three Arches Foundation awarded Colors+ Youth Center a two-year $134,000 grant for operating expenses and capacity building. The grant allowed the Peperas to sign a seven-year lease for 3,500 square feet of street-facing space just a couple blocks from the old site. Colors+ now has breathing room for continued growth. The large windows will soon display advocacy posters and the youth center will be more visible and accessible.

Making the decision to come out can be difficult, even terrifying, for LGBTQ+ youth. It not only affects their understanding of themselves but also puts them at risk. It can cost them close relationships, put a strain on their mental health and even jeopardize basic needs like housing. Recognizing these challenges, a local organization is opening its doors to LGBTQ+ young people navigating adulthood while also experiencing housing instability and homelessness. Jessi’s House, a transitional home for LGBTQ+ young adults in Arkansas, will open in March. The house will offer a six-month residency for individuals 18 years and older, with a focus on providing support to those who are 18 to 25 years old. The residency is open to young adults from any location, but the organization places an emphasis on Arkansas. There are currently three spots open for residents, and Jessi’s House has plans to expand occupancy in the future.

Venice Family Clinic is a leader in providing comprehensive, high-quality primary health care to people in need. Over the last 50 years, the Clinic has grown from a small storefront operation into one of Los Angeles’ leading community health centers, providing care to 27,000 men, women, and children annually through sites in Venice, Santa Monica, Mar Vista, Culver City, Inglewood, and Hawthorne. Venice Family Clinic has been part of the inaugural cohort of AFFIRM sites this year through the Center of Excellence on LGBTQ+ Behavioral Health Equity, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. AFFIRM groups create a safe and brave space for youth to support one another as they explore their LGBTQ+ identities and learn to manage their thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Within the groups, participants have been able to discuss the effects of discrimination and identify strategies and activities that will help them increase feelings of worthiness, belonging, and overall sense of hope. For those in California and interested in participating, contact JAmayaGonzalez@mednet.ucla.edu.

Little Amps Coffee Shop and several Harrisburg musicians are partnering up with the LGBT Center of Central PA to fund a program that will help LGBTQ+ youth with sensory issues. The LGBT Center already hosts an after-school program called Common Roads, but it can be overwhelming for children with sensory issues. The money from this project will fund acoustic treatment for the walls to make being in a group more comfortable.

ProjectQ is more than a hair salon, it is a terrific black-queer-owned community center, collective, and nonprofit organization. It creates a safe space for all LGBTQIA+, QTPOC, and BIPOC folks to feel safe, seen, and supported. Five days a week, it operates as a full-service, full-paying salon. Every second Sunday, it provides free gender-affirming haircuts, clothing, self-empowering workshops, internships, job placement, mentorship, and so much more. ProjectQ provides a place where LGBTQIA+ youth who are experiencing homelessness can thrive. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it has been dropping off food and hygiene boxes to LGBTQIA+ youth and low-income families.

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