Twenty-one years into the 21st century, Berks County has come a very long way in developing supports and resources for the LGBTQ+ community in general and for LGBTQ+ youth in particular. With support groups in schools and community, annual Pride events, an LGBT Center and Health Resource Centers it seems there is something for everyone. And thanks to the pandemic, many of these resources are offered virtually.
Yet, access barriers remain. To get to these resources, youth have to know that they exist, know where to find them, and know when they are available. And most important of all, whether we are talking about online or in person resources, youth have to feel safe enough to connect with them. Fear of being bullied by peers or rejected by family can often pose the biggest barrier of all. Whether anticipated or experienced, bullying and rejection can have devastating effects on youth development. According to www.youth.gov, reported rates of depression, suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide are significantly higher among LGBTQ+ youth than among youth who identify as heterosexual. It is a lack of social acceptance, not being LGBTQ+ itself that leads to these higher rates.
As a community we all bear and must share the responsibility of ensuring that everyone (and most especially our young people), regardless of age, gender identity and/or sexual orientation, know that they belong. We do this by ‘starting the conversations’ with open and accepting heart and minds. Three resources for LGBTQ+ youth: Berks Teens Matter at www.berksteensmatter.org , the LGBT Center of Reading at www.lgbtcenterofreading.com and www.qchatspace.org (a professionally monitored national youth chat space).
Berks Teens Matter; by Nadine J. Smet-Weiss, Community Liaison; translated by Johnathan Rodriguez-Báez, HRC and Youth Ambassador Coordinator