CEDAR RAPIDS — On Dec. 8, the Southside Boys & Girls Club launched an LGBTQ initiative in response to the national organization’s increased focus on inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youths.
The local group began meeting monthly at First Congregational United Church of Christ, offering a safe place in which to socialize, make friends, find resources, ask questions and explore identity issues.
LGBTQ Program Coordinator Lori Ampey, who is employed full time by the Boys & Girls Club as director of programming and outreach, was thrilled that the church was willing to provide space. But in the long run, she hoped to establish a separate center where people ages 11 to 18, their families and allies could gather for fun, education and support.
That dream is becoming a reality in less than a year.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE
Tanager Place has stepped up, offering rent-free a nine-room suite totaling 1,959 square feet on the first floor of the Estle Center, 1030 Fifth Ave. SE.
“I cannot say enough about Tanager and their support,” said Ampey, who reached out in late May and was immediately welcomed. “Without Tanager Place, we would not be here.”
Technically, the new space is called the LGBTQ Youth Center, but Ampey refers to it simply as the Center.
“You don’t need to be a letter to come here,” she said. “We want you here if you don’t fit in somewhere and you’re looking for a place to socialize in a safe setting. You know you’re coming to a place where you’re not judged. You don’t have to know your identity — who you are is not a necessity. ...
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“We’re talking about the most marginalized group of students and youths that there is, and I think sometimes people forget that.”
Their safe place is taking shape. The walls have been primed, waiting for the young people to add their designs; flooring is going down; a donated pool table has been resurfaced; and a big-screen TV and refrigerator are in place. Couches, an electric stove, art supplies and kitchen and bathroom supplies still are needed.
A soft opening will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2, when the public is invited to walk through the space, see the progress and talk to some of the youths. A grand opening is in the works for Dec. 14.
Soon 50 to 70 young people will be dropping by to attend meetings, watch movies, play games, create art, shoot videos and podcasts in a small recording studio, use the computer lab, chill out in the relaxation room, have snacks and create meals for family and friends. More than 100 young people have shown up for the larger events, such as the April prom at CSPS Hall.
Volunteers also are needed to help out at the center, serve on the advisory board and mentor the young people in everything from preparing a resume and presenting themselves professionally during a job interview, to skills such as cooking, art, music, writing and financial literacy.
The young people who attended the initial events came from all parts of the metro area and surrounding communities, drawing largely from school Gay-Straight Alliance organizations. Ampey meets with school representatives to help spread the word. Consuelo Steel-Cherry, Roosevelt Middle School’s Gay-Straight Alliance leader, volunteers with Ampey to make the program work.
Other attendees find out about meetings and events via social media.
“Word-of-mouth is kind of everything,” Ampey said.
Parents also are invited to come to the Center, participate and ask questions in a judgment-free setting.
“We partner with PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and that is for our parents,” Ampey said. “It’s not a transition just for your child, it’s a transition for you. You had a different dream (for your child), and you still can have that dream, but you have to see what that dream looks like. And that’s going to take a while. It’s not going to come overnight. ... You’ve got to transition together. You have to — it’s not going to work otherwise. ... Honesty is going to heal you quicker than anything. ...
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“We want parents to understand we’re not making your child anything, and we’re not creating a new world for your child,” she said. “What we want them to know is that they’re safe, and that someone cares about them, and we’re here to help them with any resources and tools that they may need.”
A lack of family support can have dire consequences, Ampey said.
“When you are kind of cast aside and you don’t have any place to go, suicide looks like a great option,” she said. “If you are born into this world and your parents or immediate family and friends will no longer talk to you and accept you, suicide looks like a great plan.
“It’s important not only for youth but for families to know that there is another way. The walk may not be easy, but at least you have somebody to do it with,” she said.
“I’m happy for these kids, and I’m thrilled they have someplace to go.”
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