Tuesday, October 4

Kaleidoscope Youth Center Pivots to COVID-19 Life, Continues to Champion LGBTQ+ Youth

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When so much of your work is providing a safe haven for LGBTQ+ youth, a pandemic is sure to disrupt your daily operations a slight bit. But though the point of contact may have shifted from in-person to online, Kaleidoscope Youth Center has remained steadfast in their commitment to promote and support self-confident, healthy, productive lives for LGBTQ+ youth as they transition from adolescence into adulthood.

To amplify this critically important work, Kaleidoscope will host The Unity Soiree on Friday, October 16, a star-studded (and virtual) night of performances and awards honoring community, and benefiting LGBTQ+ youth in Ohio.

Erin Upchurch

We spoke with Erin Upchurch, Executive Director of Kaleidoscope, to find out how the organization has shifted operations during COVID-19, what the youth have to teach us about racial justice, and why we all should RSVP for The Unity Soiree right this very second.

How has your work shifted during the pandemic?
It’s been interesting. Our Drop-in center has not been open, so we converted our typical Drop-in center programming to virtual. We’re on Instagram, we do our stories, and we do our check-ins every day.

We have our affinity groups that meet during the week like QPOC for queer people of color and Genderscope for our trans nonbinary youth.

We have a housing and case management program and a basic needs program. We’re during curbside pickup a couple of times of week for young people and their families to get food and resources. We’re still moving homeless youth into housing and still meeting with our young people for case management over the phone or via Zoom. And we’re still doing training,—which is wonderful—and that’s all virtual as well.

We’re been able to shift. It’s just been interesting to not have the in-person community. But our young people are still resilient and can create community wherever they are.

Has COVID-19 clarified some of your work or brought anything into greater focus?
Absolutely. Multiple things. It’s definitely affirmed the need for Kaleidoscope and programming like ours. What we are feeling clearer about is some different opportunities. When our Drop-in center reopens as a physical space, we still want to maintain a virtual space so we can reach more youth. We have young people who have joined our Advisory Board who have never actually been to the center, but they’re queer youth in the community who want to get involved.

We had our regulars in the Drop-in center, but some of them—especially the youth of color—weren’t attending the Instagram or Zoom programming. So we reached out to them and contacted them directly. Even looking at the need of youth of color, we had to learn more about how community needs and family structures may or may not be able to adapt.

You all do so much incredible work at that intersection of racial justice and identity development. I would suspect the Kaleidoscope youth have so much to share about how to make the world better. 
Every single day.

What lessons about racial justice are we not hearing from them that we should?
Our youth have a vision for the world that is safe for all people: safe for the most marginalized. It’s about safety and safer spaces and being affirmed, knowing that they belong, having access to community, and having their basic needs being met. And for our young people, what I love to see is that they want to bring their friends along. If it’s a white young person, they want to make sure their Black friend is getting what they need too.

It’s not the same thing as, “I just love everybody. All lives matter.” They don’t want to sanitize people’s experiences. They don’t want to sanitize forms of oppression and discrimination. They have this understanding of privilege in a way that many adults don’t get. They know that racial justice is a core piece of what happens.

That’s part of our values as an organization and our young people are always going to hold us to task. They’re always going to look at the work that we’re doing and say, “Why are there are all white people?” or “Why are there all gay people?” They want to see those intersections and they want to see that representation. And they don’t have to be convinced to do it. It’s just so natural for them because they know what’s possible and what’s necessary.

Let’s talk about The Unity Soiree. That’s coming up in just a few days!
Oh my goodness. I’m excited about it and it’s different. We’re going to be live-streaming and there’s no cost to participate.  So that means we get to reach so many more people than would be able to buy a ticket for a seated, in-person event. From an accessibility perspective, that part feels really good.

Why should people attend?
We have some special guests who we’ll be announcing in the next couple of days who will be there to tell stories about why they support Kaleidoscope.

[Attendees] will get to hear about all the work that we’re doing. I’m getting into my third year being here so we’re always moving closer to clarity about what we’re doing, what we’re being called to do, and how we can expand. The Soiree will center our young people so everyone can hear about what they are doing, because they are the heartbeat of the organization.

What I think is also important is that people will get to see how they can show up and support us, whether that’s volunteering, sharing information, a financial contribution, or one of the many other ways they can get involved. We’ve been using the hashtag #ItTakesaVillage and we truly believe that. We believe our youth are our future. The Soiree allows people to join our village for a little over an hour to support our youth and our community.

Finally, we give to you The Buckeye Flame magical torch which grants you three wishes for Kaleidoscope. What are those three wishes?
One is the financial stability to never have to ask if we can afford something for our youth. We want that sustainability.

Second, I want Kaleidoscope to be filled with young folks participating in programs, but not from a place of lack or scarcity or survival. I want them to show up because that’s where they feel the most alive, the most empowered, the most belonging.

Lastly I want my team to continue to be happy and well-cared for. I have a dynamic brilliant team and it’s a space of grace. I’m so fortunate to have a team that can meet our young people where they are and care for them in the beautiful way that they do. 🔥

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About Author

Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame. He received the 2021 Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for the LGBTQ Journalist of the Year from the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. He is the author of "Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew" (2017), "LGBTQ Cleveland" (2018), "LGBTQ Columbus" (2019), and "LGBTQ Cincinnati" (2020). In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University.

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