With Our Center, support and social groups for LGBT young people and their parents are flourishing, and this weekend’s Northern Nevada Pride Festival and Community Parade brings everyone together in one place.
For teenagers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), the decision to tell others about their sexual identity can be fraught with questions. The reaction of family and friends can be crucial to their own self-image and inner health.
That’s the way it was for Xander Whitaker, a 16-year-old from Reno who made the decision to tell others about his sexual identity a year ago. Whitaker identifies as gender fluid, someone for who gender varies over time, and who prefers the personal pronoun “they” to “he” or “she.”
“My parents understood it to an extent, and it was relatively easier to come out to them, but there have been some bumpy roads,” Whitaker says. “I had one friend who came out and their parents disowned them.”
Whitaker has been an active part of one resource where teens, parents and the community can get questions answered and voices heard. Our Center opened in April and is already packed with programs and meeting groups of all stripes and styles.
“We are an LGBT-focused organization with a goal to build, strengthen and connect the community,” says Meredith Tanzer, vice president of Build Our Center, the nonprofit group in charge of this new community resource. “We were lucky to be able to do that even before opening our doors, like getting organizations to work together and unite so we weren’t duplicating efforts. Now, we have this space for organizations to meet.”
A Place in the LGBT Community
Here’s a shortlist of groups for both LGBT young people and their parents (with plenty more to be found on the Our Center website):
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
This group meets every third Thursday at Our Center. Tanzer says that PFLAG is “not only a safe place for youth, but it could be for family or friends who may not completely understand what’s going on or may want to talk about it. Sometimes a parent may not have a hang-up about it, but it could be a different scenario if it’s your kid. Sometimes, you just need to be heard and tell your story and know it’s okay.”
LGBT Youth Support Group
Meeting every Wednesday night, this group is strictly for those under 21. “Kids can come by and talk about whatever is on their mind,” Tanzer says.
Standing for Hands On Movement Includes Everyone, the HOMIES have been around for two years as a group that offers support for LGBT youth but also a place to do community work. The HOMIES also hear from other community members about career options down the road.
“So many times, I’ve heard negative messages about youth: ‘They aren’t contributing. They’re lazy.’ For me personally, it makes me angry as a citizen in the community,” Tanzer says. “This group is an answer to that.”
Part of Whitaker’s own experience has been to host The Agenda, a peer LGBT group for people under age 21. This new group meets twice a month and is another safe place for socialization and discussion. They said the big goal is to “promote the center as a safe space to be, and to also promote responsibility and an overall feeling of community with LGBT youth.”
Tanzer adds that The Agenda fills an important gap by addressing gender identity. “Young people don’t have all the hang ups about gender than some older people may have, and they naturally adapt easier,” she says.
New Groups for Parents
Although they aren’t active yet, Tanzer mentioned two groups in September that will focus on parents. One group will be for families where the parents are LGBT, while the other will be a support group for parents of LGBT children.
Northern Nevada Pride Festival and Community Parade
This annual event takes place as part of ARTown on Saturday, July 23 at Wingfield Park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tanzer says there are 75 vendors on board as of mid-July from a wide range of programs and businesses, including Renown Health, who also sponsors the event.
Tanzer adds that half of those vendors are nonprofits and include the University of Nevada, Reno, Truckee Meadows Community College, the City of Reno, the Transgender Allies Group and Northern Nevada HOPES, among many others.
With much support in the community and a new building to rally around, youth such as Whitaker can find a place to belong. In fact, at this point in life, Whitaker says, “I feel pretty good, honestly. I feel like I have a group of people I can interact with that accept me, with all my flaws and all my inconsistencies.
“It’s just figuring your identity out for yourself,” Whitaker adds. “It’s part of being a teen and part of being a person, really.”