Plans to create safe organization for LGBTQ teens underway in Manhattan

Kris Long, Print Editor-in-Chief

The Gender and Sexuality Alliance hosted guest speakers and school board candidates Jayme Morris-Hardeman and Karla Hagemeister last Wednesday to get student feedback on Morris-Hardeman’s idea for a safe organization in Manhattan. The goal is to set up a safe space outside of school for LGBTQ+ students to hang out and get support.

“This summer I saw on Facebook an article from the Lawrence paper about the House of McCoy, which is a new LGBTQ youth center opening in Lawrence, and after I read it I thought we really need that in Manhattan,” Morris-Hardeman said. “So when I just posted [it] to Facebook and said, ‘anybody have any interest in helping me do this?’ I got a ton of responses.”

They hope to get the organization — which does not yet have a name, they are waiting for input from LGBTQ+ youth before deciding — registered as a non-profit with the IRS by December. Morris-Hardeman will then need to take it to the board of zoning appeals to get the house approved for this use. The goal for opening the house is mid-June this year. The house is owned as a rental by Morris-Hardeman who is donating it to the non-profit, and is close to Manhattan High so students in need can go after school without needing transportation, and is fairly large at four bedrooms with the potential to house kids in need.

“I really want it to be a place for community and for queer closeted and people who don’t have resources to be able to get the things like education and supplies if they need it,” GSA president Danny Montinez said.

Of the services suggested for the organization at the meeting, a few came up repeatedly: Mentorship from older LGBTQ+ people for youth who are struggling for acceptance from their family and peers or who need support while questioning their identity, resources to buy gender-related products such as binders for non-binary and trans youth, makeup and clothes from different genders, education on queer issues and residence for youth who were abandoned because of their identity.

“I have worked with a number of youth…  who were displaced from their home because they came out,” Morris-Hardeman said, referring to her time working at CASA, the court-appointed special advocate program, for 23 years. “So I know that there’s an issue in this community, and that is definitely something that’s on the table to discuss is how we could possibly have someone live in the house, who could be licensed as a foster parent if needed or how could we provide safe space without involving the foster care system.”

Though the school has been supportive of LGBTQ+ pupils in recent years — including passing a supportive transgender student inclusion policy in 2019 — and an administrative environment that current school-board member Hagemeister describes as “mindful” of LGBTQ+ students, suppport like this outside of school is also impactful.

“It’s fabulous that the GSA is strong this year, but a whole bunch of stuff happens in everyone’s life outside of this building,” GSA co-sponsor Clancy Livingston said. “So the fact that there could be a place outside this building where people could come and just hang… I’m so excited that we have something like this going in the community. It’s something we’ve needed badly for a long time.”