Creating Community

Posted: September 11, 2013 in Blog
Tags: , , , ,

The goal of my work at Youth Outlook is to create safe space for LGBT youth. Presently, we do that in a number of ways, primarily through running drop-in centers in various communities, and also through our community education and youth leadership development work. But in 2001, our community education and youth leadership were just getting started and our focus went into the drop-in centers. Our Tuesday night in Naperville has been our biggest and busiest group since 2000. Again for comparison, in 2001 Gay Straight Alliances were few and far between and the Naperville group provided a “home base” for the thirty-plus kids who came in every week, most seeking refuge from still-hostile high schools. Coming to group in our borrowed church space meant family. It meant comfort. It meant, for the first time for many of them, safety.

By the time the chilling silence filled the skies over my apartment just a stone’s throw from O’Hare airport—the second busiest airport in the country–the message came through. “We are doing a special service tonight at church. You can’t meet here.”

I understood completely. The church needed to be a church. But where was I going to find another space to meet with thirty-some kids? Or even twenty-some kids, if some were not permitted to attend? I came up empty. After a couple of hours of searching, I was still empty handed.  Filled with the dark sense that I was disappointing the kids, I notified the staff that we would have to cancel group. We had to cancel safe space on the most dangerous and emotionally stunning day any of us had ever lived through.

Not all of the kids got the message. Arriving at our usual location that evening and expecting to find us there, they found a note on the door that we had had to cancel and we’d be back next week. Alone in our individual homes and towns, the staff and I ducked our heads, overflowing regret that we’d let our kids down, and tried to shut out the repeated images of planes exploding against skyscrapers that kept looping on TV.

But you know…that’s the thing about finding community. Once you have it, you don’t want to let go. The kids who showed up for a drop-in center night only to find a sanctuary full of people they didn’t know walked a few blocks away and held their own impromptu group at a local coffee shop. This was their Tuesday night. This was their group time. This was the comfort they sought all week, and nothing—not even planes exploding against skyscrapers—was going to take this away from them.

Our agency is forged out of memories like this. Less than three years earlier, when we were only a few months old and the signature had not even been set to our 501 C 3 paperwork, Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and hung on a fence post in Laramie, Wyoming, setting a tone for our commitment to safety and community that will never be undermined. The events of 9/11 highlighted for us the need for that safety and community was undeniable.

As we have continued to build upon those two factors as our foundation, we realized that our work has taken on a third aspect, paralleling the same path that our entire nation had to take following that horrific day. We cannot stagnate. We must heal. We must grow. Our kids find healing from the caustic words thrown at them in their homes, in their schools and in their neighborhoods. They must heal sometimes from the physical attacks to which they are subjected. Safety and community give them some of the tools they need to get started. My wish for the Urban Tidepool readers tonight as our country continues its steps in this monumental healing process– if you have endured loss, if you have had to witness or endure violence…Let this be YOUR Tuesday night. Let this be YOUR group time and may you, too, find the safety and community you need to speed your healing. 

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Comments
  1. susan francis says:

    STOP MAKING ME CRY! Beautifully put….How I pray that love conquers fear, ignorance, hate, etc. L, S

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