St. Andrew's opens space for at-risk teens
In March of this year, St. Andrew’s, Panama City welcomed a new ministry into their education building. The LGBTQ Center of Bay County (The Center) or more lovingly called “Room 6” operates the only youth program of its kind in the Panhandle of Florida, and St. Andrew's was more than honored to provide the space needed. The Center has created a “safe place” where diversity is celebrated, and all people are respected, valued and affirmed, inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Specific attention is focused on youth peer support for ages 13-18 where young people will find emotional support, education, assistance, and intervention as necessary with the goal of enhancing the lives of every young person that comes through the doors. The Center endeavors to enhance and sustain the health and well-being of the LGBTQ population of Bay county by providing activities, programs and services that create community; empower community members; provide essential resources; advocate for civil and human rights; and embrace, promote and support diversity.
Cindy Wilker, president of The Center states, "The LGBTQ Center would like to express our deepest appreciation to the entire staff at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church for providing this safe space. Because of St. Andrews’ gracious offer to allow us to set up shop in Room 6 we have been able to offer support and services to our community. We need a center like this because suicide is the leading cause of death for LGBTQ youth; up to 42 % of homeless youth are LGBT identified; nearly 30 % of LGBTQ youth drop out of school because of being bullied and are twice as likely to stay home from school to avoid violence on school grounds; last year 67% of all hate crime homicides were committed against transgender women of color. Life expectancy of these women, in the U.S. is 35 years." (Statistics from the CDC and Southern Poverty Law Center.)
“Room 6 is like the world LGBTQ people dream of. A place where you are validated, you are loved, you are important, and you mean something to at least one person (but normally more). [The] Group gives me the strength to go home and know I am worth something no matter what other people say. We help each other, and it feels really good,” LGBTQ youth, age 14.