‘Out in Ohio’ profiles LGBTQ+ Ohioans making a difference in their community.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A Columbus couple is cultivating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth in unlikely places, as inclusion is under debate in Ohio’s classrooms and legislature.
Amanda Erickson and her wife, Sarah, are changemakers in central Ohio. As the director of education and outreach at Kaleidoscope Youth Center, Amanda facilitates programming that expands a community’s capacity to support LGBTQ+ youth. At Sunbury Urban Farm, Sarah is the program director tasked with planning educational development.
The couple lives on the property at the farm, where Sarah hosts Sunbury’s summer camp. Each day, children participate in forest exploration, arts and crafts, gardening, and other activities. The camp’s goal is to build self-esteem and let the children improve their communication skills through problem-solving.
Sarah also facilitates Sunbury’s various workshops and events focusing on agriculture, nutrition, sustainability, and environmental awareness. Throughout the year, the farm welcomes children ages 5 to 14 for Farm and Forest School, a week-long nature program with hands-on activities and play-based outdoor learning.
“[Sunbury links] young people and the community to where their food is coming from and links children back to nature,” Amanda said.
While Sarah is working with children on the farm, Amanda is also educating. For KYC, Amanda is teaching about LGBTQ+ identities by speaking on panels and providing training for those interested in learning more about gender and sexuality. Through her outreach, Amanda is expanding on the center’s mission by uplifting the voices of LGBTQ+ youth.
“The general climate right now is not great for LGBTQ+ young people,” Amanda said. “The chance to uplift their voices, when people are having discussions about where to go in terms of supporting youth, I think is really important.”
Amanda’s work takes her to schools, companies, and, most recently, the Ohio Board of Education, where she testified against a resolution rejecting proposed federal protections for LGBTQ+ students. Erickson told the board the resolution lacks inclusion, concern, or care for the students involved.
“These students need your support, and if you vote to pass this resolution, you are actively failing the students that you have been elected and appointed to serve,” Amanda said to the board.
The resolution underscores several anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in the Ohio legislature in the past six months, including a “divisive concepts” bill opponents have dubbed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In addition, Ohio has statutes and constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage that would be reenacted if Obergefell v. Hodges — the Supreme Court case legalizing gay marriage — were overturned.
Beyond statewide politics, Amanda is also following proposed policies in local school boards. Some districts are already implementing guidelines that are not as inclusive to LGBTQ+ students even as the rules remain in flux.
“There are policies in and around Ohio that are detrimental to LGBTQ+ young people in schools,” Amanda said. “I’m keeping a close eye on those individual school boards to see how those policies and guidelines are put into place.”
In September, Hilliard community members debated if teachers should be allowed to wear badges identifying them as supportive of LGBTQ+ students after some parents expressed concern over a code on the back that could lead to websites inappropriate for children.
Advocating for LGBTQ+ youth comes with its challenges for the Ericksons. Amanda said there is always a concern that a parent of a child will not be accepting of her and Sarah because of their identity. However, she said there are just as many LGBTQ+ parents who are sending their children to the spaces the Ericksons work in.
“They’re sending their kids to us because they know that it’s going to be a safe space for their children and that their children are going to learn that respect and decency from being surrounded by people that may not be exactly like them,” Amanda said.