CLEVELAND — Coming out to family, friends, co-workers and classmates as a member of the LGBTQ community is a journey.
For some people, that journey can be years or decades long.
For teenagers choosing to share their truths, that difficult decision can present many roadblocks.
Some teens say they spend hours on the bus each week, simply to be themselves.
For some Northeast Ohio LGBTQ teens, asking their mother or father for a ride to the LGBT Center is not an option.
“It’s 30 minutes to get downtown from here,” Kishawna Green said, “And then it’s an hour to get to my house.”
Green swipes her bus card like anyone else, to arrive at the decision to share something deeply personal about herself.
“It’s a hard process,” Green said, “Some people spend entire months trying to explain to their parents.”
Her destination is the LGBT Center.
“My mom, she was kind of iffy at first. She was like, ‘Are you sure this isn’t just a phase?’” Green said.
Queer Youth Initiative Director Brian Lutz said Kishawna is not alone.
“Having this, kind of, I don’t want to use the phrase identity crisis,” Lutz said, “But really an identity crisis at such an early age just adds one more difficult level that they have to manage.”
Lutz said hundreds of Northeast Ohio teens are enrolled in the Queer Youth Initiative, or QYou program at the LGBT Center.
For many of those teens, public transportation is the preferred way to get to the center.
Staff at the LGBT Center recognize the need for a sense of community. The center spends about $100,000 on bus fares each year.
“It is expensive to a certain degree,” Lutz said. “An all-day pass is something like $5.50 or $5.75.”
Green, whose parents have since accepted her decision, utilizes the bus system.
“It’s kids who live far,” Green said, “Like they come from like Euclid to come all the way here.”
The paid-for bus fares offer a safe and confidential option for teens who have yet to share their story with family or friends.
“I tried to give them like test drives. So I would be like, ‘Mom what would you do if I was gay?’ I was scared she was going to kick me out,” Green said, “But over time she got comfortable.”
For the LGBT Center, the bus fares come at a steep cost, but removing one roadblock to help teens navigate a life-changing decision will always be worthwhile.
“You need to get here in order to feel safe and affirmed,” Lutz said, “We’re going to make certain that you get that.”
Directors of the Queer Youth Initiative have asked for more transportation grant money, but it’s unknown how much funding they will receive for the year 2020.
“Everyone should have the right to feel safe,” Green said, “Especially in their own home when coming out.”