When a need arises, there is a reliable place where all LGBTQ community members can go, Center on Halsted. Center on Halsted, located in Lakeview neighborhood, is the Midwest’s most comprehensive community center dedicated to advancing community and securing the health and well-being of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) people of Chicagoland. More than 1,400 community members visit the Center every day.
Joanna Thompson is the Community Outreach & Engagement Coordinator. She manages outreach campaigns to increase education and awareness of LGBTQ violence prevention and intervention strategies.
Thompson said that even though she identified as [Queer] when she was a teenager, the thought of having a conversation about being LGBTQ was hopeless.
“I’m Black and half Latina; I think a lot of [Black] people don’t acknowledge the fact that we can even be an LGBTQ community.”
Thompson also stated that a lot of African-Americans have a blind “misconception that we’re very flamboyant, that all we want to do is go clubbing, [and are] involved in promiscuous behavior. I know people who want to have kids and have a family and settle down and get married.”
The Center’s U4U program educates, empowers, and provides mentorship and peer support to HIV+ youth ages 13-24 who are African-American & Latino. Its program manager is Noel Green.
Green is from Harvey, Ill, with a spiritual and supportive family background; he has been working with African-American youth since he was 16 years old. He has been a mentor and a leader with dialogue that is not welcomed in some African American communities. He says some say, “I love God but, I cannot love you.”
Green stated, “Those family situations evolve into…’I hate you because of the choices that you make… God tells me that you cannot be in my home.’ Because of that [mindset] a lot of our youth and LGBTQ members become forced into situations that lead them to engaging in activities that rip them of their self-worth and ability to survive. When you take a person that is not developed yet and throw them into the world, you can imagine what they have to do to survive.”
In African American families, it can hurt our children [and each other] because they may feel different from their environment. Disapproval from society can make LGBTQ people feel isolated and make them feel unwanted.
Thompson states, “I think that’s one of the biggest pieces in the African-American community is to educate people about the LGBTQ community. There is a lack of visibility, lack of really knowing what it means to be LGBTQ. I think we need to start there and talk to our family member; let’s break down these myths and stereotypes and let’s introduce them to the community, and then from there we can potentially get more engaged, show up to a pride events, wear a rainbow flag. I think it’s time for education and understanding what it means to be a part of the community.”
The Center provides a safe and welcoming environment with programs and services for the entire community. Their programs range from volleyball, dance performances and cooking classes to rapid HIV testing, group therapy, and vocational training. They also partner regularly with other organizations and groups from across Chicago and the nation to provide additional programming for the community. The Center is open every day Monday-Sunday 8:00 am to 9:00 pm and is kid-friendly.
For more information go to http://www.centeronhalsted.org.