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LGBTQ Youth in Lake Worth Beach Face Isolation — Find Virtual Community — During Pandemic

Compass LGBTQ Community Center
Compass Youth Program

LGBTQ youth say the thing that’s been hardest about not going to school is not being able to spend time with friends. Physical isolation during a pandemic has had a significant effect on their wellbeing.

Compass is an LGBTQ center in Lake Worth Beach. In normal times, young people use the center as safe space from discrimination and isolation. There are arts and cultural activities, and an All Tea, No Shade therapy group, where they drink tea and talk with licensed therapists — and each other.

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Amanda Canete is the youth director at Compass. She says virtual sessions are reaching a lot of young people — maybe even more than before the pandemic — but social distancing and stay-at-home orders have had some negative effects on her members.

Psychologists say LGBTQ youth living in tough environments during the pandemic find it difficult to seek refuge elsewhere; Canete says the center is trying to alleviate the anxiety isolation brings.

It’s Pride month and the center is throwing a virtual “Stonewall Stay-the-Heck-Home” Ball, named after the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. The virtual event is a dinner party held throughout the evening. And they’ll also celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision for the LGBTQ rights movement, which ruled that federal anti-bias law protects millions of gay, lesbian and transgender workers from discrimination.

Credit Compass LGBTQ Community Center
2019 Youth Holiday Dinner

Amanda Canete spoke with WLRN about what Compass is doing to help alleviate increasing isolation among her members.

Here's an excerpt of that conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Amanda Canete: Most of our youth don't necessarily have the best home life. So not going to school, not being able to go to your support systems outside of the home has made it where if that's a difficult, unsafe environment, that's what you're in 24/7. So we've really seen that there's a decrease in positive social interactions for LGBTQ youth because they might be only interacting with members that are not supporting their identity.

WLRN: Are you offering existing service virtually now?

Yes. So we are offering for our youth program. We're offering virtual weekly support groups. We have one group that meets Wednesday evenings on Discord, which is very, very popular with young people. So we have got a very tech savvy with them. And then we also have a Friday night group that is specifically for our transgender youth and non-binary youth. So that's been a great support system for them as well.

We also have a therapy group that meets virtually now once a week on Monday evenings, and our therapists are also doing individual sessions. When you have kids show up, you know, it's a success. If it's something that they're not going to like, you're not going to get them there.

And, you know, we had youth that missed graduating and just these big life events. So we always have a prom every May, and we had to cancel it. And it's been tough to kind of we can't bring those events back for them and and kind of going into this new normal

How do young people find out about Compass?

A lot of parents actually have been reaching out for their youth and saying, ‘You know, I'm looking for some support because they're not getting that right now because they're not seeing their friends.’ So, we have actually seen it increase in new members during this pandemic. And also, I think the silver lining of being [virtual] as well is that we are able to reach youth that sometimes are not able to get to us physically.

What sets the youth program apart from the other programs?

So we are one where the only direct service provider of LGBTQ youth in Palm Beach County. So that’s definitely one of the big ones. Obviously there's a lot of partner organizations that are working with LGBTQ youth, but we are the only LGBTQ community center in Palm Beach County. And we've been around for 30 years. Our youth program has been around for over 25 years.

It's something that is very ingrained in our history and we're very passionate about making sure that we provide a safe and brave space for LGBTQ youth so that they know they're not alone, that they find their their people and they find their sense of community and they find their voice to advocate for the changes they want to see in that community.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.