The Atlanta area is known nationally for its open and vibrant lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. It’s considered the fifth gayest city in America, according to The Advocate, a national gay and lesbian news magazine.
But, according to Gabriel Haggray, Atlanta’s vibrant scene is missing one thing: a safe space for young adults.
“There are some other organizations, like Lost and Found [support for homeless LGBT youth], and others … that cater to subsets of youth, but there is not an Atlanta area organization catering to all youth,” Haggray said.
In April of this year, Haggray and others founded Real Youth Atlanta, a group focusing on LGBTQ young adults and their allies ages 13-25. The organization hosted around 30 people for their first event–a picnic–May 31 at Bernard Halpern Park in Doraville.
“The picnic is the launch and kick-off experience,” Haggray said. “We will continue throughout the summer and hopefully start after school programs this coming fall.”
Real Youth is planning at least one more picnic, according to organization leaders.
Not every LGBTQ child or young adult has a place where they can be safe and be themselves, said Real Youth Vice President Mark DeLong. Some may face bullying at school, church or even at home. But, Real Youth is for everyone–including those who might also have a supportive environment.
“Part of that community is people who are supportive and are happy and well-adjusted and at peace with themselves, showing all ranges of acceptance,” DeLong said. “People who are fully out, people who are not out and people who are straight allies.”
For now, the organization is looking for a permanent space, preferably near a MARTA line. Haggray said they are aware that most of their members may not have access to a car and will need somewhere safe and transit-friendly.
“We want to be a space where they can be themselves,” Haggray said. “Where people who might not be out can come and feel safe, where people who are out and proud can be themselves.”
Haggray said he has been involved with LGBTQ issues for a long time, even being a grand marshal for the 2010 Atlanta pride parade. He also formerly served on the board of directors for YouthPride and helped organize JustUs ATL, a LGBTQ organization led by young adults.
DeLong said that Real Youth is going to be different than those organizations because it is drawing together adult community members from a variety of organizations to offer programming and mentoring.
Just as Atlanta draws adults from across the state, it also draws young adults for the same reasons–a bigger community, perhaps more accepting than their hometowns and, of course, an established LGBTQ scene. However, the existing outlets for young gay people may not be the most appropriate.
“The Atlanta LGBTQ scene is very vibrant, especially in the Midtown area, but there is not a lot for LGBTQ young adults to do,” Haggray said. “We have so many youth that want to be out there, being active in the community. So, this is an alternative to clubs and bars. At that age we don’t want to encourage that.”
This article originally appeared in The Champion Newspaper.