Offers safety, fun for LGBTQIA+ youth
by Kate Braniff
Growing up in a small town in northern Colorado wasn’t always easy for Kimberly Chambers.
“I knew I wouldn’t be accepted for who I was, so I couldn’t come out,” she says. “I didn’t have a safe place to drop in.”
For those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, or other (LGBTQIA+), there are few safe spaces where an individual can be completely open and honest with others, explains Alyssa Wright, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Integrated Counseling & Wellness in Fort Collins. “When someone can’t feel their most authentic and genuine self, they’re at extreme risk of mental health struggles like depression, anxiety, suicidality, and substance use.”
In fact, LGBTQIA+ youth experience much higher instances of suicide, substance abuse, and homelessness than heterosexual youth in the United States. Having support decreases these numbers.
“LGBTQIA+ youth in supportive families are 50 percent less likely to think about suicide than kids in unsupportive situations,” says Wright.
As a parent, educator, activist, and queer woman, Chambers understands these dangers well. To fill the gap, she created SPLASH (Supporting Pride, Learning, and Social Happenings) Youth of Northern Colorado, a volunteer-run, community program connecting young people 5-24 years old and their families to safe spaces, protective programming, resources, and referrals to pre-screened specialists. SPLASH offers weekly age-specific and peer-led support groups, activities, and leadership opportunities.
Organizations offering this type of support exist in bigger cities, but not always smaller, rural areas. Chambers, who serves as director, describes SPLASH as similar to a community-based gay-straight alliance, specifically for LGBTQIA+ youth in Larimer and Weld counties.
Like many nonprofit organizations, demand for SPLASH’s services skyrocketed when the COVID-19 global crisis hit.
“When COVID really started affecting our young people in late March, our numbers jumped over 500 percent from the year before,” says Chambers. “We saw huge increases in need when kids were isolated from their safe social networks.”
Chambers added multiple online support groups and social events to keep up with demand, but she does try to host in-person events with proper COVID-19 safety protocols whenever possible.
“To a certain degree, online doesn’t fill the gap of in-person connection,”
explains Wright. “For this time specifically, with everything being online, it’s even more important to have these safe spaces.”
Chambers believes that to be relevant with kids, adults need to meet them where they are, and not the other way around. From social media outreach to planning events and making decisions, SPLASH youth are encouraged to be involved and take on leadership roles.
“Call me crazy, and sometimes it’s difficult, but I encourage our board to have youth in voting, board positions,” says Chambers. “It keeps us accountable, empowers youth, and it keeps our goals and strategies relevant.”
The SPLASH Ambassador program provides training in suicide prevention and other peer interventions, giving youth tools to identify peers who might need help but don’t feel comfortable going directly to an adult.
“In my adult life, family and friends have given me space to discover and be my authentic self,” says Chambers. “I feel it’s worth returning that empowerment, to make sure kids can stay alive.”
|Online Community Groups*|
*Check times and locations at splashnoco.org. Check out upcoming events on social media at #splashnoco.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or text 970-444-LGBT for additional information.
If you or someone you know is under 25, having a mental health crisis, and LGBTQIA+, contact The Trevor Project 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, text START to 678-678, or via chat at thetrevorproject.org/help. Or call the SummitStone Crisis Line at 970-494-4200, ext. 4.