Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gender nonconforming can be an isolating experience. And connecting with the broader LGBTQIA community can be just as challenging.
The good news is that there are a lot of ways to find other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) people in your community and beyond. Here are a few resources to use and organisations to join that can connect you with the community:
One of the unequivocal benefits of social media is its ability to connect traditionally marginalised people. Even if you don’t know anyone else who is ‘out’, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit and more, are a window on a worldwide community of LGBTQIA people. These virtual communities can be a lifeline for folks living in rural communities or small towns where coming out publicly could invite hate from neighbours or even put their safety at risk.
Many platforms have subgroups or other designated spaces for open conversation. Huffington Post’s Queer Voices put together a list of “11 Facebook Groups Every LGBT Person Should Know.” Tumblr has a lot of LGBTQIA positive blogs that share inspiring images that show being of differing sexual orientation is normal and beautiful, and Reddit has many subreddits around LGBTQIA and queer issues and topics of interest. These platforms have the added benefit of anonymity for those who are worried that using their legal name could make them unsafe.
School-based LGBTQIA groups
Schools are a central resource for the LGBTQIA community, both to help young people struggling with their sexuality and also to educate people about tolerance. The Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network (formerly the Gay-Straight Alliance Network) is a marquee model for bringing together queer, questioning and LGBTQ allies in middle and high schools. These student-run clubs provide both a safe space for students, but also help them grow as leaders in their school and the LGBTQIA community and as advocates for equality. College students can look to campus-based LGBTQIA groups or even get involved with Campus Pride, an umbrella organisation focused on making colleges and universities safer for LGBTQIA students.
Even if you’ve graduated, schools can help connect you to other people in the LGBTQIA community. Teachers, professors and administrators can sponsor groups, while parents and involved adults can volunteer to help these groups grow and thrive. COLAGE is a US network for children of LGBT parents, which can connect both youth and their parents with other members of their community.
Since the opening of the first LGBTQIA community centres in Los Angeles and Albany, New York in the early 1970s, the network has exploded to more than 200 centres in 45 US states, Canada, Mexico, China, Cameroon and Australia. CenterLink, the national association of these centers, provides resources that connect people with their local community, while also growing the network to reach more people.
Community centres provide a wealth of resources for the LGBTQIA community. They can help families navigate where safe schools are for their children, provide health and wellness services like insurance enrollment and STI testing and even organise social groups like book clubs, and sub-communities within the organisation to connect similar folks. Find your local center to see what they offer.
One of the best ways to connect with a community is to give back to it. You don’t have to be an older professional to be a mentor. Many colleges and universities – as diverse as University of Utah, UPenn, and even North Carolina-based Dickinson College and Catholic university DePaul – have established peer-to-peer mentoring programs. Professional groups and companies with LGBTQIA employee groups can provide opportunities to mentor or be mentored about both common career issues as well as navigating the workplace as LGBTQIA.
These can be time-consuming commitments, but mentoring doesn’t have to take place through a specific one-on-one relationship we traditionally think of. For instance, volunteering with The Trevor Project can help you reach LGBTQIA youth in desperate need of kindness.
Gay sports leagues, performance groups and more
You don’t need to be interested in politics or action on LGBTQIA issues to find a community of LGBTQIA people where you live. Many cities have organised social groups around activities that specifically target the community. The most obvious of these are night clubs and bars, which have historically been safe spaces for people to be themselves and find other members of the community. The special role of gay clubs and bars was even recognised by President Obama when he designated the Stonewall National Monument, a nightclub often considered the birthplace of the modern equality movement.
Safe social spaces have moved beyond night clubs. Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Cleveland and Greensboro have gay kickball leagues. You can join gay dodgeball in Raleigh and Philadelphia, bowling in Pittsburgh and bocce in Chicago. These leagues not only provide welcoming communities for people interested in sports but also a social network for people more interested in the after-game drinks than the final score. Many cities also have a Gay and Lesbian Association (GALA) Chorus and others host queer film festivals that showcase stories and voices.
Sarah Rose is the Social Media Associate and LGBTQ Issues Advocate at Care2 and The Petition Site. Additionally, she has been an outspoken advocate for the past 10 years in both the Atlanta and Washington, D.C., queer communities. She has previously worked in marketing for various nonprofits, as well as serving as an assistant for U.S. Congress. In her free time, she sings and plays guitar for the Atlanta-area rock and roll band Sarah and the Safe Word.
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