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WESTMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Westminster Presbyterian: Pride House opens its doors to LGBTQ+ youth

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As a child, I had a stuttering problem. At times it was so bad that I could barely get through a sentence, but with a lot of hard work and practice I was able to overcome my speech disorder. I don’t remember stuttering and I can’t recall the words I stumbled over, but after more than 40 years I remember my emotions. I have distinct memories of being teased and laughed at. I remember being angry with the world and, most of all, being furious with myself. I know I am not alone as we have all felt embarrassed, frustrated, alone and angry because it is part of the human experience. Those emotions can be an opportunity to grow and prepare us for whatever life may have in store. But, for most of us, those emotions and memories recall pain and ostracization.

For many, those moments are not isolated or circumstantial. They are a daily reminder that they are discriminated against for being themselves. Gender inequality and homophobia are a tragic reminder that all humans do not have equality or equity. Pride House was conceived as a place to support those individuals. On Sept. 30, 2021, Pride House officially opened its doors to welcome LGBTQ+ youth and allies, ages 13-18 years, into a place that fully affirms them regardless of gender or sexual orientation. It is a safe space to embrace their individuality, receive support, connect with others and have fun.

With the help of Westminster Presbyterian Church and a generous donation from the Osborne Foundation a safe space was created, and through the efforts of many individuals, providers and educators, Pride House has become a reality. Pride House is located at Westminster Presbyterian Church, one of whose foundational beliefs is that all people are created in God’s image and loved by God equally. Westminster recognizes that many LGBTQ+ youth and adults have been ostracized and shamed by some churches, and seeks to extend kindness, compassion and inclusion in order to live out its convictions. While Pride House is a project of Westminster, it is not an overtly “religious” program. It is showing love in the most basic way by providing a safe, affirming and welcoming space for youth who need equity, justice and love.

All too often, LGBTQ+ youth, adults and families experience discrimination from their community, from within their family, from their colleagues and even from the public services and resources designed to serve their needs. Some view the LGBTQ+ community as the enemy, a stereotype and nothing more than a list of pejoratives. For them, it is a simple duality, the sacred and the profane.

• Results from a survey conducted by the Human Rights Campaign and the University of Connecticut showed 77% of LGBTQ+ teenagers reported feeling depressed over the past week, and over 70% reported feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week.

• Results from an analysis of 35 studies of 2.4 million heterosexual youth and 113,468 LGBTQ+ youth show that LGBTQ+ youth are three times as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to attempt suicide.

• Results from a survey of 25,000 LGBTQ+ teens conducted by The Trevor Project in 2019 showed that support from just one accepting adult reduces the likelihood of suicide attempts by 40%.

Christopher Patch

Christopher Patch

LGBTQ+ youth are burdened with prejudices and discrimination that threaten their individuality, self-esteem and basic right to happiness. Pride House provides a safe space for youth to have fun and grow without judgement or fear. Over the last several weeks I’ve been fortunate to meet the most resilient, intelligent, talented and compassionate youth who are beginning to find a sense of community at Pride House. They display qualities of leadership, authenticity and a unique insight into humanity. We hope Pride House will begin to open doors for these youth so that they can shine. They will benefit, and so will our community.

Pride House is open from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Thursday. It is located on the first floor of Westminster’s education building in the space formerly occupied by Westminster Nursery School at 17 William St. Youth can drop in for conversation, food, games, guided discussion, homework time and relaxation. We will be adding classes such as sewing, yoga, art and more in the near future. It is our hope that Pride House will grow to be open additional afternoons.

For further information, contact me by phone at (315) 294-0817 or email at pridehouseNY@gmail.com, or stop in any Thursday to see Pride House in action.

Christopher Patch is the children's and youth coordinator for REACH Ministries and coordinator of Pride House at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Auburn. He is also an adjunct professor of business and information technology. He holds a master's in theology from Northeastern Seminary. He lives in Auburn with his wife, Kimberly, and their three children. For more information, visit westminsterauburn.org.

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