LGBT community finds support in monthly meetings

Ben Clark, 17, speaks during an LGBT support group meeting last Thursday. (Mitchell Willetts / Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. — The third Thursday of every month, a recently formed LGBT support group meets at 312 N. Van Buren.

Support really is the key term for the 6 p.m. sessions, 17-year-old co-founder Benjamin Clark said, as it's something youth and adults on the spectrum often find lacking.

During the first meeting in March, the seated circle was asked, 'Who has supportive parents?'

"Only one person raised their hand," Clark said. "This (group) is the only support some people will have."

The address they meet is the home of Millennium Health Services, which offers, among other things, counseling, classes, and even serves as a place for local kids to participate in the online EPIC charter school program while supervised.

It also offers a free, safe venue for the LGBT support group to convene, and those optional extras are there if a member decides they need it.

Clark's twin, Jace, uses some of those services. He mentioned his interest in starting a support group to Millennium’s office manager Jamie Johnson, and she helped get the idea off the ground.

"There's a lot of people in Enid that are a part of this community, and I think it would be good to have a known support system for people who don't have that from family or friends, there's a group that they can go to," Jace Clark said.

The group sees about a dozen attendees per meeting, Ben Clark said, with a few new faces each time so far, he's never felt more connected with the local LGBT community.

Even after years of struggling to figure out his identity, the transgender boy finds there's much he doesn't know about gender and identity.

"I kind of have a more open mind now than I did before, which is surprising because I didn't expect to learn things while doing this," he said.

Meetings have a rough outline for subject matter, but ultimately, whatever is on the minds of group members is what gets discussed.

June's meeting began with a brief history of Pride Month, how it came to be, why it's important, but talk quickly shifted to a number of different topics throughout the course of 90 minutes: From Pride Month profiteering by big businesses, to the stereotypes of gay relationships, to the increasing acceptance of particular LGBT groups by society, and the disapproval it seemingly maintains for others.

Elijah Underwood, 16, has been attending since the first meeting. It was all a little awkward at first, few eager to spill any concerns or fears or hopes, but the crowd is warming up, he said, himself included.

Underwood appreciates the chance to have real, face-to-face conversations about LGBT issues, he said. Although he has LGBT friends outside the group, these aren't talks they ever really have.

Members are encouraged to share personal experiences, and to be open and honest with their thoughts.

"I kind of needed these when I was young. When I first started learning about these things, I could never find enough people to talk to," Clark said.

"I always felt kind of alone, and in this setting you're not alone, you have this group of people and it's a welcoming environment, and I never had that," he said. "I always wanted something like this and now we have it."

There's no need for anyone to sign up for the support group, Clark said, they only need to show up.

Click for the latest, full-access Enid News & Eagle headlines | Text Alerts | app downloads

Willetts is education reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. He can be reached at mwilletts@enidnews.com.

React to this story:

13
3
0
0
1