Rainbow Area Youth offers space for LGBTQ youthWritten by Matt Liasse | | email@example.com
Shannon Frye was a member of Rainbow Area Youth (RAY) before becoming its executive director.
“I understood that what I was feeling was something that the people that I grew up with would not understand,” Frye said. “I began to feel very set apart and very different from my friends and family and had nowhere to go.”
Frye said she was fortunate to have a supportive family, but there are some things they couldn’t prepare her for.
Frye was advised to talk to RAY founder Brenda Spurlin. RAY serves as a place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth to go to for advice and support.
“I think I called her about five times before I was able to actually start talking,” Frye said. “She was very patient, as were all the other volunteers when I first started going to RAY.”
As Frye tells kids today, after her first visit she didn’t return to RAY for another two years.
“Once I was ready to start talking, the thing I found was that I had a second family,” she said.
Spurlin formed RAY in 1997. A mother of a gay child, she met two gay men at a Toledo Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) meeting. Spurlin wanted to be more supportive of her son when she realized there weren’t many options for LGBTQ children, Frye said.
Since its formation, the group has served more than 1,500 kids ages 13-19. The youth who participate are assured confidentiality.
“The nature of the group is about creating a safe space — a place for kids to come to feel not only physically safe, but emotionally safe from whatever’s happening in their life,” Frye said.
Frye said it is not always sound advice to tell a kid to come out.
“We live in a world that is ripe with prejudice,” she said. “It’s not always in the kid’s best interests to come out.”
Frye said a child being evicted from his or her home is the first concern. Leaders also do not advise kids to come out if they live in a highly homophobic area.
“Their safety and well-being is our main concern,” Frye said. “Pursuing that goal above others, we understand that some of our kids cannot come out at certain times, even at times they’re coming to RAY.”
Above all, Frye said the group wants to get kids more comfortable being themselves before they make the decision to come out.
“Kids are not just coming out to family, [they’re] coming out to friends, coming out to employers, coming out to all different kinds of people all the time,” Frye said. “We hope that they become more comfortable with talking to more people openly about it … but we don’t consider it a tragedy if they don’t come out.”
Frye said the group tries to prevent kids from claiming an identity before they are sure who they are.
“The first thing we tell the kids is who you are at 15 is not necessarily who you are at 25,” Frye said. “We want them to have a safe place to explore themselves.”
Teens interested in attending meetings or adults interested in volunteering can contact RAY at (419) 742-2362 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The only prerequisites for volunteers is to submit to a background check and to be able to listen without judgment.
For more information, visit www.raytoledo.org.