NEWPORT – Standing behind their green cloth-covered table, Mirasia Cassese and Melanie Saunders chatted with Newport Pride festival attendees and handed out information brochures to promote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s new LGBTQ peer group program Community Center.
LEAD (Love, Equality, Acceptance, Dreams) has its first meeting on July 7 and plans to meet every Wednesday at 3 p.m. Founder Cassese said she brought up the idea for the program to her boss at the center after noticing a lack of LGBTQ youth. programs in the city.
“I grew up in Newport and am part of the LGBT community so I feel like this is a group that I needed when I was growing up,” Cassese said. “Like, you can get support from your family. You get support from your friends But being in a space where there’s another adult, an impartial adult, who won’t judge you and is there to support you, I think. that’s what I got so I took that personal feeling and made it a professional.
This new program builds on a recent wave of training for local peer groups of LGBTQ youth. Thompson Middle School started their student organization Gay-Straight Alliance three years ago, when Thompson’s former student Wren Robinson, who helped found the group, was in seventh grade.
Now a sophomore at Rogers High School, Robinson also helped form a GSA, which launched in January. The new GSA High School was created with the help of social worker Jen Culpepper.
“We want to have a place where students can just calm down and tell what happened to them and their stories,” Robinson said. “It’s really cool, because you see a network of people that you know will support you, which you don’t get a lot of. So that’s pretty cool. ”
Robinson started the Thompson Middle School GSA with the help of the school’s mental health counselor, Laura Clarke. The group was initially a small group of students decorating cupcakes to distribute to allied LGBTQ teachers at the school. She said she was happy to see other organizations in Newport adopt programs for LGBTQ youth.
“Last year I said to Jen in high school, ‘You have a team coming up that isn’t going to ask if there’s a GSA, they’re going to ask when is it going to meet,'” Clarke said. “So she took the ball and ran with it and now there’s one in high school, which makes me happy … A person’s sexuality is so critical when they’re in college and their gender, and it’s so. scary and I don’t. want someone to be hurt.
One of the advisers at Rogers High School GSA, history teacher Steve Ferris, said their desire to help the new group of students stems in part from their own recent experience of being non-binary.
“I was in the closet for a long time. I had a military career and I don’t want these kids to go through that, ”Ferris said. “I want to make sure we can help them the best we can to be who they were meant to be.”
The MLK Center will collaborate with Rogers High School GSA and Thompson Middle School GSA as a kind of connected food program. The idea is that the MLK Center program works for students during the summer when school is over.
“School just ended, so the kids are going to need a support system,” Cassese said. “They can come see us during the summer and when the school year starts again, they will have many different places to support each other.