PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) – The recently opened LGBTQ Center at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Panama City hopes to help kids feel more accepted and comfortable in their own skin.
After the suicide of a gay nine-year-old boy in Colorado, officials say these centers are more important than ever.
The LGBTQ Center of Bay County opened in March, and in the few months it’s been open, it’s shown kids and teens in Bay County’s LGBTQ community, they aren’t alone.
Emmett Ryder, a member of the LGBTQ Center said, “I believe it was the best thing to ever happen here because I feel so accepted here and everybody, if you ever need somebody, you call somebody and they’ll sit there and talk you down, they’ll talk you through it.”
The center offers a variety of resources for members of the LGBTQ community as well as anyone who needs someone to talk to regardless of race, sex, or gender.
After nine-year-old Jamel Myles of Colorado took his life after being bullied for coming out, members say centers like the one in Bay County could have made a difference in his life.
“All people are looking for is a place they can call home and cry out for help, this is a place where it can help anybody whether it’s here, Denver, all around the world,” Ryder continued.
Leaders at the center tell us the bullying has gotten better but it does still happen.
Robert Yates, the social media and marketing director for the LGBTQ Center said, “We’ve all been there. I’m a high school dropout because of bullying, I went back and got my GED and moved on through college but some of these kids, they end up on the streets or doing drugs or whatever else. So that’s what we want to help them avoid.”
Anthony Allen, another member of the center added, “My teacher told me about this place and I went here for the first time and was automatically filled with joy.”
The center not only serves as a safe space but as a potential lifeline.
“If I could have something like this when I was younger, I probably would not have self-harmed. I probably wouldn’t have tried to take my life,” said Ryder.
Officials with the center say because of social media, bullies can be taken home with kids.
However, they say to turn the phone or tablets off when they get home to avoid any potential cyber-bullying.