Young people spend many of their waking hours in spaces where they do not feel comfortable—at home, at school or at work.
This is especially true for youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning (LBGTQ+).
According to The Trevor Project, “71% of LGBTQ+ youth reported discrimination due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Regional youth can find an alliance and explore their identities at the Common Roads program—serving Dauphin, Cumberland, York and Lancaster counties. This LGBTQ+ youth-serving program has offered a drop-in social setting and community resources for youth and young adults since 1993.
“The Common Roads program is a space for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults to find community, connection and support,” said Amanda Arbour, executive director of the LGBT Center of Central PA.
Almost two decades after its founding, Common Roads merged with the regional LGBT Center, bringing the missions of the two organizations together as one nonprofit organization.
Gabe Taylor, now the Youth Programs Coordinator at the LGBT Center, grew up in the Harrisburg area and remembers the need they had for support and resources as a child discovering their identity.
“When I moved back to town, it was very important for me to get involved in the local LGBTQIA+ community,” Taylor said. “I want to be a possibility model for younger folks in the community who are also struggling to find themselves. It can be very difficult to find comfort in being your most authentic self if you do not have support.”
They use their experiences to continue the mission of Common Roads and speak to Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) school groups discussing resources available in the community. Taylor is proud to be a queer adult role model for students to look up to and a resource advocate for their community.
The Common Roads program has been operating on a hybrid model since COVID-19, with the first meeting of every month being virtual.
The Harrisburg youth group (ages 12 to 17) meets on Wednesday evenings at GLO – Harrisburg, and the Lancaster youth group (ages 12 to 17) meets on Friday evenings online via Zoom. The young adult group (ages 18 to 29) meets on Sunday afternoons at GLO – Harrisburg.
Before each in-person meeting, attendees complete a COVID-19 screening and are required to wear a face mask while indoors. These two-hour social gatherings include sharing weekly updates such as highs and lows of the week and participating in themed activities.
“In honor of International Pronouns Day, we made pronoun pins and discussed topics such as school atmospheres and how to talk to parents about respecting pronouns,” Taylor said.
The LGBT Center hosts several youth-focused events throughout the year, including the largest LGBTQ+ youth gathering in central PA, the GSA Summit. Before COVID-19, the summit would see over 400 LGBTQ+ youth and youth adults come together to connect with other GSA or likeminded groups in the area.
“Our 13th annual summit was held in a virtual setting, but we are hoping to be in person this spring,” Arbour said.
Safe Space Prom was created to provide a friendly space for LGBTQ+ youth who may not be able to be their fullest selves at their own high school proms. In previous years, it has been held at Club XL in downtown Harrisburg and has invited drag artists and vogue dancers to perform. The LGBT Center looks forward to hosting a prom this June.
The last Saturday in July marks a historic event in the LGBTQ+ community—Harrisburg Pride. The Common Roads program wants to keep youth safe by offering a Youth After-Pride Party with pizza, music and comradery.
“Our after-party allows youth to celebrate Pride season in a comfortable and safe environment,” Arbour said.
“There are very few all-ages spaces available and even less sober spaces, so this party is fun but also very important,” Taylor said.
Last year, the LGBT Center bid farewell to its long-time home on 3rd Street and began researching to find their next community space. The LGBT Center looks forward to expanding on their programming and serving more community members in the future.
“We hope to be in a larger space to allow us to support more youth and continue providing a social space, three times a week,” Arbour said. “We also want to help youth find resources in the community, such as food, mental health services and housing—such as launching our Rapid Rehousing program.”
The Rapid Rehousing program will help LGBTQ+ young adults (ages 18 to 34) gain financial independence to live on their own. Through a 12-month program, individuals will be able to pay housing through aided assistance and gain financial responsibility.
Looking to get involved? Common Roads needs volunteer chaperones for their weeknight youth group meetings. Visit their website to learn more.
Weekly in-person group sessions do not require pre-registration and are currently being held at Glo – Harrisburg at 1701 N. 3rd St. Visit their website at www.centralpalgbtcenter.org for more information.
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