FAIRVIEW PARK, Ohio — The last day of June was also the last day of Pride month. But advocates want people to know that supporting LGBTQ youth shouldn't end on July 1.
"We want them to make sure that they know they are valid, that their identity is important," said Kristen Pepera.
Pepera and their wife Lisa founded Colors+ in 2018. The non-profit located in Fairview Park is focused on helping youth in the community.
For 18-year-old Carlee Phillips, Colors+ helped her connect with other LGBTQ youth because sometimes finding her way through Ohio, "is like swimming in the ocean."
"Sometimes you have a school with you, some friends, family, people who support you, but it doesn't always prevent the scary things from coming to get you," Phillips said.
Phillips said she's known she was a lesbian since she was 15. She said she's found comfort and community in Colors+. But, a line in the budget signed by Gov. Mike DeWine late last week has people who support youth worried.
Providers who have a conscience objection can refuse treatment to the LGBTQ community.
"That's going to increase their anxiety," Pepera said. "That's going to increase their depression or increase their isolation."
In a press conference after the budget bill was signed, DeWine pushed back on the idea this could drive people out of Ohio.
"It gets worked out, somebody else does those things," DeWine said. "This is not a problem, has not been a problem in the state of Ohio. And I do not expect it to be a problem."
But for teenagers like Phillips, it means a provider could deny her care.
"I am worried about not being seen by a doctor because I'm not perfect," she said. "Because we're seen as something wrong to them."
There are providers in Ohio who offer care to the LGBTQIA community.
The impact of the pandemic could be wide ranging too. The Trevor Project surveyed 35,000 teens in late 2020 and 70% of respondents said their mental health was "poor" and nearly half said they couldn't get the mental health services they wanted.
"I think it can be pretty scary sometimes. There are some pretty hateful people out there," said Makayla. She spoke to News 5 about her experiences but did not want to use her last name.
She was finding out who she is at the start of the pandemic lockdowns.
"I am 15 and a lesbian. My pronouns are she/her," she said.
For her, the self-reflection was hard to do during the lockdown alone. But she also started going to Colors+.
The organization offers virtual drop-in hours and appointments so teens who need help can get it when they need it. The founders also host events, counseling and have a space just for LGBTQ youth.
"It's a great way to just have an outlet," Makayla said. "[To] have an accepting and safe place for people who may not have that at home or at school."
To learn more about Colors+, click here.