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I have always felt that I was born in the wrong body and should have been born a girl. My childhood was less than pleasant, as I was bullied, shunned by peers, and never quite found the “right” group for me.

– A trans* community member

 

A Safe Space in Times of Crisis

Many of us struggle to fit in during our youth. It’s a common theme, a rite of passage for those turbulent teen years. But for lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer/questioning youth, that challenge is amplified. There may be no safe space. There may be no support. There may be no one who truly understands. Some may fear for their lives. Others may need mental health counseling or medical help, as well.

That’s where the LGBT Center of Raleigh comes in – and as their website is quick to acknowledge, the area they serve extends beyond Raleigh. They provide a variety of programs and services, including: The Transgender Initiative that creates a Safe Space for everyone across the gender spectrum; Youth and Family Services, including ASPYRE Youth Leadership Camp; Queer NC; TpartE and Youth Coffee House; Raleigh Allies, a unique program among LGBT Centers; and SAGE Raleigh, a program for LGBT seniors aimed at reducing social isolation..

Centrally located in our state, the center finds itself serving individuals and families from across North Carolina.

“We have people coming from all over,” says James Miller, executive director of the LGBT Center. “Parents have dropped their kids off, having driven miles, because they honestly don’t know what to do. But they found us, and we can help bridge that gap. It takes time, of course, but it can happen.”

Support and Outreach

There is no shortage of support at the center. Their calendar gives an overview of the dozens of events happening every month, from casual drop-ins and coffee houses to book clubs and big celebrations, as well as days of remembrance. And it’s not just for youth. The center provides a safe space for families and parents, as well, with service hours Monday – Friday from noon-8pm and Saturday and Sunday from noon-6pm.

“Availability is so important, especially in times of crisis,” Miller says. “We’re reaching kids and families all along the path, many who have seen abuse or have been outcast by their communities. “

Dale Mackey, former volunteer coordinator at the center, relays: “One evening, I had a shift right before a holiday. I was thinking we were going to be slow, so I came in with something to read. As soon as I sat down, someone walked in. I tried to engage them in conversation, but they seemed to want quiet time. We both sat and did some reading.

“At the end of the shift, I got up to start to close. They looked at me and said, ‘Thank you for being here. I really didn’t want to be home alone tonight.’ That sense of having someone at the Center so no one feels alone is what the word ‘community’ means.”

The Education Factor

The library is a cornerstone of the nonprofit, and all teens get a free library card. For many, the books are a window into understanding themselves. And for families it offers a chance to understand their children and, in many cases, start to rebuild connections that may have become strained . For others – young people who may not have access to literature on LGBT subjects — it’s an empowering start to the rest of their lives.

The same trans* community member quoted at the beginning of this article also had this to say about the impact of the LGBT center and the Transgender Initiative: “Our community still faces threats of violence, unemployment and underemployment, access to housing, and medical attention on a near daily basis. In order to solve these problems and make the world better for everyone, we need a solid foundation – and I believe the Transgender Initiative at the Center is that foundation.  We are a beacon of hope to the transgender community both locally and nationally.”

As part of the Month of Thanks, we’re proud to recognize the LGBT Center of Raleigh for all that they do. In honor of their critical work, we’ve given them a $5,000 award to help them continue into the New Year and beyond.

About Natania Barron

Natania Barron is a social media specialist at BCBSNC, a newbie runner, a healthy food nut, and a mother of two. She's passionate about connecting with consumers through social media and helping to deliver a personal, meaningful experience online.

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