CLEVELAND — Northeast Ohio is home to a vibrant LGBTQ+ community, but when it comes to resources to support the group, they can seem few and far between.
However, there are several organizations that are working tirelessly to make sure the region is an inclusive place for everyone.
"It's really powerful just to be in a space where you know, that you're welcome," said Amanda Cole, executive director of Plexus, the LGBT & Allied Chamber of Commerce.
The organization, founded by Eric Lutzo and Dave Ream in 2006, aims to act "as a point of connection for corporations, supporters, LGBT businesses and professionals," according to its website.
Inclusion is not something you have to think about when you're in the majority, but for members of the LGBTQ+ community, it's a constant. Whether one is looking for a real estate agent, care giver, or contractor, Cole says the needs, safety, and comfort of the queer and allied community are a priority.
"I know that if you're looking for something, you can reach out to Plexus and we're going to help make that referral," Cole explained. "There are so many organizations and individuals that are gonna be able to meet you where you're at," said Cole.
Another organization moving inclusion forward throughout Northeast Ohio is the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. From the health and wellness center to the School of One, the facility is home to numerous resources and avenues of support.
Elsewhere, from the near west side to the east side, Betty Jacobs is providing a major need in Lake County.
"Lake county is super, super conservative here, and has to come a long way to be LGBTQ friendly," Jacobs explained.
In 2019, Jacobs founded the only LGBTQ resource in the area providing education, support, mental health, and addiction resources.
"I knew there was a need," she said. "I knew there was a lack of support and services, but I think I didn't realize the emotional attachment that would come along with that."
And what about the kiddos? There's resources and help for them, too. Shaker Heights is home to the only summer camp in the state that prioritizes the needs of trans and gender non-conforming campers. Camp Lillac allows for the kids ages 12 to 17 to fully be themselves, without judgement, many of them for the first time in their lives.
“It helps build confidence," director Jodilyn Soloman explained. "It helps them feel like they have a community and network and safety net for them."
There's also Colors+, a non-profit youth center in Fairview Park that aims to strengthen the LGBTQ + youth community and allies through advocacy, support, education, and celebration. In 2022, thanks to a new location, the center is inviting parents to get more involved.
"Now that we're in a bigger space, we can have parents stay and connect with one another," co-founder Lisa Pepera said. "At the same time, they can have their young ones nearby or their older teens, and we'll have some separation between the two of them so they can all connect in the way that they need to."
And if you think there's a lot to keep up with, don't worry: Buckeye Flame is a newsroom dedicated to amplifying the voices of the LGBTQ + community and creating content that documents the struggles, lived experiences, and triumphs of its members.
While these organizations are doing their part to make Northeast Ohio an inclusive and safe space, it's going to take a village to color the world with shades of inclusivity.
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