LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Once stripped of choice, Stina Aleah remembers feeling limited.
“It felt suffocating,” she said.
Her canvases back then often felt black and white as they were also stripped of color and creativity.
“I wasn’t living my true calling or my true purpose,” Aleah explained.
The Cleveland native says she was forced to suppress who she knew herself to be; an artist. The reality was much like the silhouettes News 5 captured her painting for a mural inside a new LGBTQ+ safe space in Lakewood called “The Fieldhouse at West 117.”
The silhouettes depict those in the community who she considers herself an ally to. It also depicts the LGBTQ+ friends she has lost.
“Inclusivity and just having an understanding where people are, who they are is really important,” Aleah said. “It frustrates me that they even have to deal with that.”
The challenge of identity suppression is something Deidre McPherson remembers somewhat facing when she returned home to Cleveland after leaving for college at 18 years old.
“When I moved back I was out. I was proud as a lesbian and I wasn’t sure where to go or to hang out I wasn’t sure where the affirming spaces were,” McPherson shared.
That initial lack of support, resources and safe space is what McPherson fears more of Cleveland’s LGBTQ+ youth are facing.
“That’s something that drives people away from Cleveland. That’s something that increases the chance of challenges with mental health, with suicide rates, with depression, with anxiety…all of those things really play into a person's sense of self and happiness,” she said.
However, McPherson believes that won’t be the case at the Fieldhouse, a mega-complex led by the Studio West 117. The space, which is a new ecosystem for greater Cleveland’s LGBTQ+ community by co-developers Betsy Figgie and Daniel Budish, is currently under construction. Phase one of the project is set to include LGBTQ+-owned restaurants, inclusive hang-out spots, Lakewood’s first rooftop bar and an inclusive sports league.
“If you identify as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person you may feel excluded from certain activities in school especially athletics,” McPherson said. “This space will help change that incredibly…that’s something that our region has never had before.”
The LGBTQ+ Mural Program, funded by West 117 Foundation, will also display more than two dozen art installations by those in the community, including Aleah.
“It’s just really fun, vibrant, a lot of movement. Joy is what I want people to feel when they see it,” Aleah said.
Every detail inside the Fieldhouse will signify a place of pride, refuge and support. It’s a unique space for youth and others to live out their true selves.
“It’s just a beautiful thing,” said McPherson.
Construction on the Fieldhouse, which is phase one of this project, is expected to be completely finished this summer. The goal is for doors to open in time for Pride Month.