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LGBTQ Youth Sanctuary Opens In Uptown

By Josh McGhee | February 24, 2017 6:11am
 Director of the Broadway Youth Center Latonya Maley cuts the ribbon at its new home at 4009 N. Broadway Wednesday.
Director of the Broadway Youth Center Latonya Maley cuts the ribbon at its new home at 4009 N. Broadway Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

UPTOWN — Nick Bratcher-Bouyer first came to Howard Brown Health's Broadway Youth Center when he was fleeing a violent relationship two years ago.

Through the programming at the youth-focused wellness and drop-in health center, he was able to discover who he was as a gay man and found the support to survive, he said.

The center "has completely changed my life and my outlook on life," said Bratcher-Bouyer. "It has opened my mind in new ways of accepting new ideas and feeling like I have somebody to come to as a family because my mother got sick when I was 16, which left me out on the streets to fend for myself at a young age. Coming to [the center] allowed me to come get meals, come get clothing, come get my education finished and just have somebody to talk to."

Now the 21-year-old Washington Park resident helps the youth center as a peer advocate creating workshops on issues that affect the LGBTQ community as well as people of color, people of different religious beliefs and other groups in need, he said.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Broadway Youth Center's new home at 4009 N. Broadway Wednesday night, he was held up as an example of "who we do this for" by Latonya Maley.

Maley, who has worked with the organization for about four years, was named director of the center last March when the move from Wellington United Church of Christ, 615 W. Wellington Ave., was first announced.

After outgrowing its home in Lakeview in late 2012, the nonprofit program called the church home as it searched for a permanent location. But that search was met with opposition from neighborhood groups.

"I was on the board when we were transitioning from our previous location and there weren’t a whole lot of community partners out there who understood our mission, who understood these kids and understood the risk they faced," Board Member Duke Alden said.

It's been a "very long journey" to secure the space in "the heart of the LGBTQ community" in Chicago, which it is leasing for five years from Weiss Memorial Hospital, he said.

The opening of the new center is "incredibly appropriate," considering recent attacks on LGBTQ rights, and creates a sanctuary for a young population that often finds itself on the verge of homelessness. Between 20 and 40 percent of all homeless youths identify as members of the LGBT community, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"What I can say for certain is that the future of the LGBTQ community are our kids. The young people who are struggling in very meaningful ways to really establish who they are as members of the community and that’s what the Broadway Youth Center is all about," he said.

As the youth center announced its grand opening, the Trump Administration revoked federal guidelines set by President Barack Obama allowing public school students to use restrooms and facilities corresponding to the gender they identify as. Chicago Public Schools responded by affirming its promise to protect those students' rights Thursday.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said while he was worried about the political climate under the Trump Administration, the community is full of "warriors" who have fought and will continue to fight, he said.

He noted how the environment had improved for the LGBTQ community in recent years, recounting the high number of premature deaths in the community in the past and a time when a coworker transitioning from a woman to a man was "distraught about having to go to the bathroom."

He said the battle has affected him personally.

"I was a social worker who assessed children for sexual abuse and I had to come out to my supervisor fearing that I could be fired for being gay especially as a gay man who works with children who have been sexually abused," he said. "The stories go on and on. There’s been many battles that we’ve had to fight. ... We all have to stand up and that’s what we’re going to do."