by Jordana Joy
A few short years ago, the closest resources available for the Lake County LGBTQ+ community were at least 50 miles west in Cleveland.
A lack of resources can often lead the LGBTQ+ community to avoid phone calls to mental health and addiction service providers, fearing whom they may meet on the other line. A gap had formed in Lake County, and a bridge was needed to cross it.
Thankfully, a new non-profit organization LGBTQ+ Allies Lake County has emerged to provide support groups, educational opportunities for allies, connections with local health agencies and social events, all at no cost to the public.
Executive Director Betty Jacobs founded the organization in May 2019, after she interned at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland earlier that year and was inspired by the lifeline its services provided.
Recently, LGBTQ+ Allies Lake County secured a grant from the Cleveland Foundation that enabled the organization to purchase groceries for 83 people in the county, as well as establish a wellness program series with Circle of Renewal in Kirtland. The very last program, LGBTQ+ Self-Care & Renewal in Nature, will be held Oct. 3. We spoke with Jacobs to learn more about this vital organization.
What are some of the challenges the organization is facing?
We were already struggling because we were new in 2019. Right immediately in March we lost 70 percent of our funders, and most of our funders are individuals in the community who believe in what we’re doing. But those people either lost their jobs themselves or they have small businesses that immediately took a decline … It’s been a huge struggle just in that.
Our support groups went virtual, all of our programming went virtual. That has been a challenge within itself, because something I’m hearing from people who have always come to our support groups is they don’t feel safe getting online now, because maybe people don’t know that they’re out. I have a pretty large trans youth group here and for most of them, only one parent knew, so it wasn’t safe anymore to do it at home because the other parent may then find out.
Especially for the community and region that you’re serving, what are some of the most important facets to creating programming?
Some of the things that were key that we had to be careful with right off the bat is confidentially. We are the first and the only LGBTQ+ organization [in Lake County], so even saying the word LGBTQ here, you say it in a whisper. Growing up here in Lake County, I didn’t know somebody else who was LGBTQ until about 10 years ago myself, so being 45 years old, I spent my entire life thinking I’m it here. I know it’s not the reality of it, but that’s the life I lived.
There are many other people who are still living that way. We have a lot of rural pockets out here, a lot of farming community, so it’s difficult to even try to step out of that social norm. One of the things that was actually rough when we first started — and I still do not have a solution to it — is individuals would run into somebody at our support group meetings that they knew and it was scary. It’s interesting how scary it still is for someone to know out here.
Tell us a bit about the new wellness program that you have been implementing.
We had multiple different ones you could choose from. We had youth wellness programs, adult wellness programs, art therapy for youth. We taught mindfulness to help youth with stress also.
The one that’s coming up is a full day retreat. It will be at a park in Painesville and it is called Hidden Lake Shelter and it will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. It’s going to have a little piece of mostly everything we have done throughout the other wellness programs. It will have some general yoga and mindfulness and meditation practices. We’ll do some journaling and self-reflection, safe conversation circles and we’ll provide a lunch within that.
The biggest part is really rekindling that connection. As much as I wanted to be super careful about being together, the desperation that I hear in emails and voicemails that are left from the individuals that I’ve talked to pushed me in the direction of needing to do something.
What is Northeast Ohio, particularly Lake County, still in need of improving for the health of its LGBTQ+ community?
They need more exposure, just knowledge and education. It’s the basic language and knowledge and terminology. You don’t know how many times I have talked to an agency or organization and it’s like deer in the headlights, like they never thought they would need an LGBTQ person. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.
I’ve been moving services of support into Ashtabula and Trumbull County also, and Ashtabula has even far, far less than Lake County in their knowledge and support.
Whether I can help somebody else start something in another county or somehow we expand. I think we cant wait anymore. Lives are lost everyday, and it’s senseless and it can be helped if people would just stop being unkind to others for no reason, for things they cant understand or because they don’t fit the “social norm.”
- Fill out a volunteer form at their website at lgbtlakecounty.com
- Send a check made out to LGBTQ+ Allies Lake County to One Victoria Place, Suite #260, Painesville, OH 44077
- Follow the organization on Facebook and Instagram to help spread the word
Jordana Joy is a reporter for The Morning Journal newspaper in Lorain, OH, where she has developed stories including the passing of Lorain native and decorated author Toni Morrison and an exclusive with Sandusky’s Jim Obergefell, who headed the Supreme Court case for marriage equality. She previously worked for Ohio Magazine.