Growing up in Everett, Kayla Mangan experienced firsthand the difficulties of being a young queer person in a place with few resouces to help LGBTQ residents feel safe and accepted.
“I went to high school here and there really was nothing available,” Mangan said of programs to enable LGBTQ youths to affirm their sexual and gender identities and feel welcome in the community.
Now Mangan, who still lives in Everett, is helping provide that needed support to other young LGBTQ residents of Everett and surrounding communities.
With Dom Washington, Mangan founded the Everett LGBTQ+ Youth Space and Resource Center, located within the city-owned former Pope John High School building on Broadway.
Equipped with comfortable chairs, computers, a television, and board games, the center is a place for LBGTQ youth to simply hang out. But it also will offer such programming as support groups and informational events, and referrals to medical, legal, and other community resources.
The two founders, who both identify as nonbinary and queer, said they are not aware of any other facility of its type in the region, apart from several in Boston.
“We are both extremely passionate about this so we’re very excited to have this space,” said Washington.
“LBGTQ youth, especially those of color, are at heightened risk of anything you can think of, from mental health issues to homelesses, incarceration, bullying, physical violence, and family issues,” Mangan said. “And studies show spaces like the one we created minimize some of that risk.”
“It’s a really cool group,” said a 16-year-old center participant who identifies as bisexual. “Growing up, I was always quiet about my sexualty ... Coming to this group feels less lonely. I can make friends that can relate to me.”
The facility, which officially began operating June 7, is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m. for teens 12 to 17 years old. Though focused on youth, it also welcomes people 18 and older from 6 to 8 p.m. on those same days.
In addition to providing the space rent-free, the city supported the center with a $10,000 grant awarded by the foundation that distributes annual payments Everett earns from the Wynn Resorts casino. The center is affiliated with the city but operates independently of it, according to Mangan.
Everett’s donation enabled the center to operate through the summer, but the group recently launched a GoFundMe drive ― and is seeking grants — to raise the additional funds needed to continue this fall, when it hopes to fully launch its programming.
“Members of our Administration worked closely with Kay and Dom to ensure that they had everything they needed ... to create this safe space,” Mayor Carlo DeMaria said in a statement. “I’m proud of these individuals and the city will continue to support them as they grow the center.”
Mangan is a 2018 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst who researched LGBTQ youth in earning a 2020 master’s degree from Northeastern University in criminology and criminal justice. A 2017 graduate of Spelman College and a Salem resident, Washington has worked for several organizations involved with food, housing, and other social justice issues.
A principal goal of the center is to provide participants “a place to exist where their identities and experiences are accepted,” Mangan said. “From my own experience, and what studies show, being around similar identity people is extremely important to mental health.”
In addition to monetary donations, the center is seeking volunteers, and such items as clothes, hygiene products, and books..
But Washington said the best way people can support the center is to “start caring about LGBTQ youth and their needs. To me, the most fundamental way to get involved is to think holistically about what a safe future for LBGTQ youth would look like.”
To access the GoFundMe site, go to gofund.me/502ec7a3. For more information on the Everett LGBTQ+ Youth Space and Resource Center, go to elysarc.org.
John Laidler can be reached at email@example.com.