Growing up in a rural community can feel isolating.
For LGBTQ+ young people, those challenges can be compounded by a lack of awareness within the community, increased harassment and discrimination, family rejection and lack of support. There are also fewer opportunities to explore and develop their identity and connect with similar people.
Des Swisher, 18, of Lincoln City, remembers how it felt when all the posters for the Gender-Sexuality Alliance Club at Taft High School were torn off and stolen.
“Some were found ripped apart,” Swisher said. “From then on, all our posters were kept in classrooms under surveillance.”
Swisher, who graduated in 2021, recalled how club members would come to him distraught over incidents like this.
“Of course, the removal of posters was far less dehumanizing than some of the verbal bullying we experienced,” Swisher said.
Swisher is a member of the Bravery Center’s youth leadership team, where he’s learned to provide peer support and assistance. Bravery Center is based in Lincoln County and helps LGBTQ+ youth survive and thrive in a rural community. It’s part of the Olalla Center, a nonprofit organization that provides family mental health services.
Bravery Center was created in 2020 as a pilot project with InterCommunity Health Network Coordinated Care Organization. Providing affirming behavioral health services is one of the health outcomes the program has achieved, despite the disruption caused by COVID-19, which has resulted in most of the service delivery moving to a virtual platform.
Through Bravery Center, LGBTQ+ youth across Lincoln County have felt connected.
“Strength comes in numbers and shared experiences,” Swisher said. “At Bravery, we have access to a loving community and resources.”
The center is also fostering future leaders. With support from Beck Fox (they/them), Bravery Center’s director, Swisher and other youth from the leadership team successfully petitioned the Lincoln County commissioners to declare June 2021 as Pride Month.
Fox was impressed by the success of their advocacy.
“We’re empowering youth and helping them to develop the skills to be resilient and find their voices in the face of adversity,” Fox said. “They are a tremendous inspiration to me.”
To learn more, visit olallacenter.org/project-bravery.