HOPES provides services to community members who are living with HIV and AIDS, and decided recently to start a group where young people can have fun while learning life skills.
“We saw a need in the community for youth to have a safe space to express who they are without judgment,” said Robert Harding, HOPES program coordinator.
Harding facilitates the group, which has yet to be named, with Kayde Claunch, HOPES case manager. Claunch said the meetings are light-hearted, but that serious issues will be addressed during the group sessions.
“Most of Northern Nevada HOPES services are directed at HIV-positive people, so this is kind of preventative in nature,” Claunch said.
The group started meeting July 20, and so far the youth have just spent time together watching movies and talking.
“In the future, we are hoping to address pretty standard youth topics,” Claunch said, such as bullying and safe sex. “But this will be directed more toward LGBT youth.”
Harding said a different group of adolescents has attended each meeting. The youths who have attended so far are “out” and their parents are aware they are attending the HOPES sessions.
“The kids fill out an information sheet and their parents know they are here,” Harding said.
One of the biggest challenges for LGBT youth is gaining understanding and acceptance from their families. Two out of three girls who attended one of the meetings in late July said their parents choose to turn a blind eye to their sexuality.
“My parents are in denial,” Miki, 17, said. “I guess they will accept it when I get married.”
Mick, 17, said her parents also choose not to talk about her sexuality, but that she is comfortable with who she is.
“I’m out, but we just don’t talk about it,” she said.
Mick said she enjoys the HOPES group because she can relax and not have to worry about what others think.
“Here I can be myself,” Mick said.
Mick and Miki are both active in their high school communities at Wooster and McQueen in raising awareness for acceptance of all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
“Right now me and her are working on a video on whether you are born into your sexual orientation or whether it is a choice,” Mick said. “I think I was born into it … I like girls.”
“I think a lot of people choose, but there are a lot of people who are born into it,” Miki said. “I tried to date boys, but it just didn’t work.”
Mick said she has known throughout her life that she is a lesbian.
“Throughout your life you know who you are attracted to,” she said. “Then you finally accept who you are.”
The LGBT youth group meets at 4 p.m. every Wednesday at Northern Nevada HOPES, 580 W. Fifth St., suite 1A. For more information, contact Claunch at 997-7508.