Teens Find Comfort with Sexual Identity in 'Together for Youth'

By KBJR News 1

August 31, 2012 Updated Aug 31, 2012 at 6:29 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - They meet once a week in the basement of the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church—a handful of teens, and a group leader, that has been repeating the tradition since 1992.

In 1995, the volunteer coordinated group, Together for Youth, was taken over, and funded, by Lutheran Social Services.

Group Coordinator, Kathy Hermes, claims current lifestyles portrayed in everyday media portray images of openly gay people leading safe, comfortable lives, which helps youth struggling with their sexual identity to be open and honest.

"At the same time we've got people being braver because it's safe to be brave, and we've got an undercurrent that causes a collision course between brave people, just being themselves, and people who are not able to understand [and] accept people just trying to be themselves," said Hermes.

And according to the youth attending Wednesday's meeting, it has given them hope to, one day, lead a life without worry—like 17 year old Zane, who says he joined the group after being recommended by a support base in high school.

"When I got here, it provided way more support than the school could, and just because I don't know if the school knew how to at the time—or any of the schools," said Zane.

Zane claims he knew he came from a loving supporting family, but had always been concerned about being able to live his life as an openly gay person in his daily life: "I knew I would want to have relationships, I knew I would want to be able to be comfortable, I would want to be able to hold somebody's hand down the street, you know—classic, cheesy stuff, like that."

...which is the exact support that attendees like Hannah hope to offer.

"I've always felt very strongly about how people should just love who they love. It shouldn't matter what gender you are, or how you identify yourself. I want to be an ally—I want to be there for people who need help," said Hannah.

One teen, 18 year old Nicole, says the group saved her life when bullying at a Northland High School caused her to change schools, and seek help.

But, Nicole claims, even with the support she receives from the group, her unwillingness to be on camera is a sign of the tough times gay youth still face in 2012.

She hopes more groups, like Together for Youth, will start up throughout the state and give support to other teens struggling with social pressures, and their sexual identity.

GLBTQ and anti–bully activist, Jamie Zabozny, is a major proponent of groups, like Together for Youth, and often keeps in touch with many of the group members.