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Find Your Community: LGBTQ+ youth groups create a safe and supportive social environment

Find Your Community: LGBTQ+ youth groups create a safe and supportive social environment

Find Your Community: LGBTQ+ youth groups create safe, social environment

Illustration by Stephen Michael Haas

Many young people spend a lot of their time in places where they don’t feel at home: at school, at home, or at work.

This is especially true of youth who identify as lesbians/gays/bisexuals, transgenders, queer/questioning (LBGTQ+).

According to The Trevor Project, 71% LGBTQ+ youth reported discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Youth from regional counties can form alliances and explore who they are at the Common Roads program serving Dauphin and Cumberland, York, Lancaster, and York. Since 1993, this LGBTQ+ youth-serving program offers a drop-in social environment and community resources to youth and young adults.

Amanda Arbour, executive Director of the LGBT Center of Central PA, stated that the Common Roads program provides a place for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults, to find support, connection, and community.

Common Roads was founded almost two decades ago. It merged with the regional LGBT Center to bring the missions of both organizations together into one non-profit organization.

Gabe Taylor, who is now the Youth Coordinator at the LGBT Center’s LGBT Center, grew-up in Harrisburg. He remembers the struggle they faced when they were discovering their identity as a child.

Taylor stated that when I returned to town, it was crucial for me to get involved with the local LGBTQIA+ communities. I want to be a role model for young people in the community who are also struggling to find their identity. If you don’t have support, it can be very difficult for you to find comfort in your authentic self.

They use their experiences and continue the mission of Common Roads. They speak to Gender and Sexuality Alliance schools groups to discuss resources in the area. Taylor is proud that he is a role model and resource advocate for the community.

 

Friendly Spaces

Since COVID-19 the Common Roads program has operated under a hybrid model, with the first meeting being virtual.

The Harrisburg youth club (ages 12-17 years old) meets Wednesday evenings at GLO Harrisburg. The Lancaster youth club (ages 12-17 years old) meets Friday evenings online via Zoom. The young adult group (ages 18 to 29) meets on Sunday afternoons at GLO – Harrisburg.

Participants must complete a COVID-19 screening before attending an in-person meeting. They also need to wear a mask indoors. These two-hour social gatherings feature weekly updates including highs and lows for the week, as well as participation in themed activities.

Taylor stated that in honor of International Pronouns Day we made pronoun pins. We also discussed topics such school atmospheres as well as how to talk with parents about respecting pronouns.

The LGBT Center hosts a variety of youth-focused events throughout each year. This includes the largest LGBTQ+ youth gathering central PA has to offer, the GSA Summit. The summit was held prior to COVID-19. This event saw more than 400 LGBTQ+ youths and youth adults meet up to network with other GSA or like-minded groups in the area.

Arbour said that our 13th annual summit took place in a virtual setting. However, we are looking forward to being in person this spring.

Safe Space Prom was established to offer a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth that may not be able attend their high school proms. It has been held at Club XL downtown Harrisburg in the past and has featured drag artists and vogue dancing. The LGBT Center is looking forward to hosting a prom in June.

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The historic event of Harrisburg Pride is the last Saturday in July. Common Roads offers a Youth After-Pride Party, which includes pizza, music, and comradery to help keep youth safe.

Arbour explained that the after-party allows youth to celebrate Pride in a safe and comfortable environment.

Taylor said that there are very few spaces for all-ages and even fewer spaces for sober people. Taylor added that this party is both fun and very important.

Last year, the LGBT Center left its long-time home at 3rd Street. They began looking for new community spaces. The LGBT Center is looking forward to expanding their programming and serving more members of the community in the future.

Arbour stated that they hope to have a larger space in order to continue to provide social space and support more youth, three times per week. We want youth to find resources in the community such as food and mental health services.

The Rapid Housing program will assist LGBTQ+ young adults aged 18 to 34 to achieve financial independence to live on their terms. Through this 12-month program, individuals can pay for housing through aided aid and become financially responsible.

Are you interested in getting involved? Common Roads is seeking volunteer chaperones for its weeknight youth group meetings. Visit their website to find out more.

Weekly in-person group sessions do not require pre-registration and are currently being held at Glo – Harrisburg at 1701 N. 3rd St. Visit their website at www.centralpalgbtcenter.orgFor more information, click here

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