A special place for LGBTQ youth and young adults

by QVegas .
Saturday Aug 7, 2010

It's nearly time for tens of thousands of students throughout the Vegas valley to return to middle school, high school and college. A sizable percentage of those youth and young adults identify as LGBTQ, and several dozen of them have actively attended the weekly programs designed especially for them at The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada (The Center) throughout the Summer break. These social and support groups provide a welcoming environment and solace from a sometimes not-so-welcoming world at large.

Every Thursday night, 6-7 p.m., the R.U.1.2. Youth Group meets at The Center (953 E. Sahara Ave., Ste. B-31), especially for 13-19 year old LGBT youth and their allies. The participants are educated on HIV prevention, coming out issues, drug and alcohol abuse and many other topics. The group is about empowering the youth to be everything they want to be. It is also about acceptance, and everyone is treated with respect and dignity. Following immediately after, at 7 p.m., the 17-24 group meets with the same mission but for a somewhat older crowd. The overlap in age ranges means some members actively attend both meetings.

Mel Goodwin joined The Center staff in November 2008 as Youth and Volunteer Services Director. Goodwin's duties include overseeing both these weekly groups as well as the various events and activities held on other nights throughout the year. These include the highly popular LGBTQ Youth Prom, providing an alternative to the traditional school prom, which is generally non-accepting of same-sex dates. The prom hosted by The Center, on the other hand, allows young people to bring whomever they want, dress however they want, and fully be themselves, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This year's prom attendance numbered in the several hundreds and was likely the largest ever held to date. Read a letter from Cassie, who was voted Prom Prince 2010, on page 11 in this issue.

Another popular program at The Center is Vegas Mpowerment Project (VMP). VMP enriches and strengthens 20-29 year old gay/bisexual men's pride about who they are and encourages them to explore and celebrate their sexuality by not just focusing on condom use but by including a wide variety of safer sex behaviors. VMP creates settings where young men can express their identities with each other, find support, and band together to take action on issues of importance to them. The group meets every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7 p.m.

Joshua Montgomery is coordinator of Vegas Mpowerment Project. He says, "Younger gay/bisexual men have consistently been at higher risk for HIV since the epidemic began.... We wanted to educate our community on safer sex practices and change the norms of what might be safe and might not be safe to what the facts are so we can reduce the number of new HIV infections here in Las Vegas." VMP began in 2005 after Montgomery attended a 3-day training in San Francisco on Mpowerment, which is part of the Diffusion of Effective Behavioral Interventions (DEBI) project. The local project is funded by the Southern Nevada Health District.

Just this year, Montgomery has seen great growth in VMP. He says, "There has been a lot of growth this past year having reached our goals almost already, and we still have five more months. We have many individuals who come group after group and strive to be a part of the bigger picture by joining our Core Group.... Core Group members are the starting point for the diffusion process that spreads the safer sex message to young gay, bisexual and transgender men throughout the community."

He adds, "It has been amazing working with this group. I have met so many individuals who came with no light at the end of the tunnel to now helping run things in the group. I have been able to share my personal struggles with addictions and have helped a few members to overcome their addictions one day at a time. I never had anything like this group growing up and since finding out my status I have always wanted to give back to help those who might be struggling with substance use, depression and more."

For more information about becoming involved with R.U.1.2., the 17-24 group, or Vegas Mpowerment Project, or perhaps encouraging a friend or family member to attend, contact The Center at (702) 733-9800 or visit The Center at the meeting times above. •


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