KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The pandemic caused a spike in suicidality and anxiety among LGBTQ youth, but a local group is working to give them a space to feel safe.
The Passages program at the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project started back up in June after a year off (save for a few online events) during the pandemic.
The program is a weekly meeting for LGBTQ youth to come play games, talk about their joys and challenges and feel accepted and validated by their peers.
"The first time I came, I just felt so welcomed," new member Ainsley Midgely said.
Longtime member Gillian Johnson felt the same way.
"You can be yourself here and you can be whoever you want to be," she said.
The meetings are particularly important now after a year of turmoil. When schools and other resources shut down because of COVID-19, some young LGBTQ people lost their support systems.
According to a new report from The Trevor Project, 42 percent of LGBTQ youth say they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. That's up from 40 percent the year before.
The report also shows 70 percent of LGBTQ youth say their mental health was poor most or all of the time during COVID-19.
Passages coordinator Quinn Erbe was once a participant of the program herself. Now, she hopes to pass on the support she got to the current group of teens.
"It is the dream of Passages just to continue to facilitate a safe space for all youth to be able to come and to be themselves authentically," she said. "And then to also challenge them to question the things that society says should be one way or to challenge what even they think is acceptable or not acceptable, as far as their identity or sexuality or who or what they want to be as they continue to grow older."
After a year of not meeting in person, the teens said returning to the meetings felt like coming home.
"It just feels like you have a giant, like a family," member Maria Leon Mantei said.
The summer session of meetings take place every Monday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, contact the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project on its website, by email at email@example.com, or by phone at 816-701-9984.