SMYAL offers a wealth of programming for LGBTQ youth, four nights a week, every week. That includes special programming based on fun activities and dedicated support programs, such as trans and non-binary nights on Tuesdays, and discussion of health and wellness topics on Thursdays — including PrEP referrals, safe sex, healthy relationships, consent, and communication with partners.
But, says Rebecca York, SMYAL’s community engagement and youth leadership manager, despite its efforts some youth are still not engaged. “We have been trying to figure out how to reach young kids who can’t necessarily make it to our drop in programming or in-school programming for whatever reason,” she says. “And we turned out a lot of ideas, but nothing ever really stuck.”
In June, SMYAL found its answer: Q Chat Space, a chat-based platform that’s the result of collaboration between CenterLink, a network of LGBTQ community centers, PFLAG, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. On the Q Chat Space website, youth can “check in” and participate in live discussions, led by a facilitator, about a designated topic. Afterwards, they can chat more informally, and potentially form friendships outside of the group.
“The conversations are pretty self-guided by the young folk,” says York. “We are just there to make sure that we are getting to the heart of the issue, or if they are looking for resources, we have them on hand.”
Deborah Levine, director of LGBTQ YouthLink, notes that SMYAL is one of seven nonprofit LGBTQ centers across the country partnering with CenterLink to launch Q Chat Space. There are 10 discussion groups in total, with at least one occurring daily throughout the week.
“The beauty of this is that SMYAL can promote and encourage the youth here in your key area to attend any of the groups, even though their colleagues out in Arizona are handling Tuesdays,” says Levine. “Youth can join from anywhere, it doesn’t matter.”
Levine believes Q Chat Space is already having a positive impact on those who use it. “Just the other day, a youth said, ‘Online is so much easier to talk to people, because in person I feel that there are so many expectations I need to meet,'” she recounts. “‘But online, I am free to be me.'”
To learn more about Q Chat Space, or to sign up and access discussions, visit www.qchatspace.org. SMYAL is located at 410 7th St. SE, Washington, D.C. For more information, call 202-546-5940 or visit www.smyal.org.