COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Kaleidoscope Youth Center (KYC) has a simple mission: to serve and support LGBTQ+ youth and young adults.

Since 1994, KYC has been working to provide housing, programming, and leadership opportunities for LGBTQ+ youth ages 12 to 24. For executive director Erin Upchurch, the center’s work connects vulnerable parts of the community and creates opportunities for belonging.

“As communities, when we invest in our young people, that’s actually how we get to see the change that we’re all fighting for,” Upchurch said.

KYC is the largest and longest-standing organization supporting the LGBTQ+ community in Ohio and is home to a slew of services. Offering free daily drop-in programming, the center provides a space for youth to come in for resources, personal care items, community building activities, support, and just to hang out.

The center also hosts peer-to-peer mentorship opportunities through affinity-based groups. One is Genderscope – a weekly group for youth of trans experience, non-conforming, non-binary or questioning. Each meeting focuses on a different topic depending on the participants’ interests. Previous discussions have focused on choosing a new name, legislation, and advocacy work.

“I am part of the LGBTQ+ community and it has always been something that has really impacted me positively,” said KYC Community Based Wellness Service Coordinator Nina Bayes. “I wanted to make sure that our youth felt, because of everything’s that happening in the world, I wanted them to know that there are adults who have their back, and we support them.”

For LGBTQ+ youth struggling with housing, the center has created various services based on need. The center’s rapid re-housing program helps youth prevent or quickly exit homelessness and find stable housing. Assistance is offered without preconditions.

In April 2021, the center began its supportive co-housing program, consisting of a duplex for individuals 18 to 24. Currently, two individuals are living in the duplex. In the coming months, the space will be expanded to four units and the center is also looking into obtaining a new property.

“Unfortunately, there is such a huge need for housing support,” Bayes said.

According to True Colors United, a national nonprofit dedicated to youth homelessness, at least 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. Queer youth are also 120% more likely to experience homelessness, with a majority forced out of their homes due to family rejection or familiar abuse.  

Beyond housing, the center is looking to expand behavioral health support by hiring an additional therapist. Bayes said on-site behavioral health therapists can be especially beneficial for individuals looking to transition and need letters and diagnoses from a therapist for medical transition.

Through educational training, the center also works with organizations, schools, and businesses to aid staff in creating safer and affirming spaces for LGBTQ+ youth.

“We really want to take the magic that we have at KYC and make sure folks are equipped to create that in their own backyard, in their own communities,” Upchurch said.

The center will be celebrating Pride Month with its third annual Pride celebration Saturday. Since 2018, KYC has hosted its own Pride celebration to create a safer space for young people, led by young people. A number of community partners will be in attendance with music and food, and young individuals will have the opportunity to share their stories.

KYC is one of seven organizations, along with other Ohio organizations like Stonewall Columbus and Equality Ohio, partnering with Homage for the retailer’s largest Pride collection. Each purchase benefits one of the organizations.

“[The partnership with Homage] shows our youth they’re not alone in this world,” Upchurch said. “There are people, allies, safe adults, safe friends who actually care about their lives and their well-being.”

Outside of traditional Pride events, the center leaders are having conversations with young individuals who plan on attending city parades or want to engage in activism to ensure they know how to do so safely.

This year’s Pride is occurring during a tumultuous time for the community, given the introduction of bills like House Bill 616, which opponents have dubbed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Through these challenges, Upchurch is encouraging all members of the community and allies to remember the power of community and the truth of their identity.

“For us, pride really is every single day because it is about celebrating who you are, being your favorite self, expressing who you are,” Upchurch said. “We know that something else is possible in this world. So, every day, not just in June, we work really hard to live into that possibility.”