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Queer Youth Initiative in Cleveland provides safe place for LGBTQ youth

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 01, 2023

CLEVELAND — 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 LGBTG youth.

"Queer youth just want to be in school and have all of the same issues that all of their straight, cisgender classmates are having. They don't want to have to go to school and worry about if they're going to get hate speech and harmed for just being who they are," said Madeline Swanbeck, QYou coordinator.

And yet this is their reality. With so much legislation and public debate around the personal welfare of LGBTQ youth. Specifically, those who are transgender and nonbinary.

The LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland has a program called the Queer Youth Initiative, to provide a network of support to anyone in need. The initiative is for ages 11 to 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.

And having a safe space is important for LGBTQ youth, Recchia explained.

"Safe spaces are everything for them. So, a lot of time when they’re at school they might not be out, or they might not have friends who are supportive. So having that space where they can be themselves, where they can be their authentic selves—share the name they go by, the pronouns they go by, that in itself can just create that safe space," Recchia said.

But with over 150 anti-LGBT bills being introduced across 23 states this year, the world feels unsafe to them.

A recent article on Healthline.com quoted a psychotherapist as saying, "When there is an attempt to criminalize such integral and basic needs like using the bathroom, having romantic relationships, or getting appropriate identification documents it sends the message that LGBTQ people are wrong for simply existing," social worker and psychotherapist Heather Zayde said in the article.

"In the media, they're looking online and they're seeing adults berating them for just existing," Swanbeck said. “And everything about their rights is trying to be stripped from them from just going to the bathroom in school all the way to like marrying who you want to marry."

"A lot of these people who are writing these pieces of legislation and policy are white, cisgender, heterosexual men who have never had to watch their identities up for debate," Recchia said.

Swanbeck and Recchia work know firsthand the negative impact the current political climate is having on the mental health of LGBTQ youth. But helping teenagers cope, doesn't have to be difficult.

“It can be as simple as just giving kids safe spaces within the high school. A teacher who has the inclusive flag in their room and just letting those kids know that they can come to them when they are going through this, that is such a huge benefit to youth," Swanbeck said.

CLICK HERE fore more information about the Queer Youth Initiative.

If you are an LGBTQ youth and need support, you can get information about the Queer Youth Initiative by calling 216-651-5428. The Trevor Project has a lifeline you can call that's 24/7 at 866-488-7386. The LGBT National Youth Talk Line is 800-246-7743.

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