At last, we have entered an age where gay conversion camps are closing, and safe spaces are opening. Just a few blocks from the infamous gay bar, the Underground Niteclub, Buffalo’s Stonewall, tucked between Trinity Church and Chris’ NY Sandwich on Delaware Avenue stands Gay and Lesbian Youth Services of WNY, a quaint safe haven for the local queer community, operated by supporting staff with open arms and minds. Their center in the city is a comforting getaway, adorned with LGBT art and literature, with a beautiful Drop-In Center where teens can escape and come together after school and during the summer, and participation is free of charge!
I had the wonderful opportunity to explore the center and talk with Mike Seitz, who has been with GLYS for about six years, and is also responsible for responding to staff requests to meet with individuals between scheduled visits. He is also a part of the LGBT Coalition and previously worked at Planned Parenthood. He filled me in on all of the wonderful projects they take part in for the community, and he would love to see the day where they can grow the center to a point where they can open beds for homeless youth.
GLYS began in 1983 at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center that was on Delavan Avenue, where youth and volunteers came together. It started originally just as a safe counseling space for queer youth. After the GLCC closed in 1986, the YWCA of WNY on Franklin Avenue allowed them to rent space for the Drop-In Center for individuals in between living arrangements. The community changed its name in 1994, and six years later, it became a full-blown youth development agency, although they do service others who are older than 22 years of age. The non-profit organization has been branching out to high schools across Western New York since 2006, developing Gay Straight Alliances and other LGBT+ positive clubs for teens. In 2009, they began reaching out to youth in out-of-home care, and assisting LGBT folk in all 8 western New York counties in various ways, including more rural areas that have a more limited access to the resources GLYS has to offer.
The center hosts a plethora of activities, such as peer support groups, educational sessions, and other recreational activities, which they update on their monthly calendar on their website and various social media. Other events include same sex couples counseling sessions, meetings the first Thursday of every month for trans individuals, and meetings for Mentors of Color. They also collaborate with other service industries and provide LGBT guest speakers for their “Careers R Us” events for the youth, where adults share their stories and advice for those struggling with their sexuality, gender identity, careers, relationships, and so on. In addition, they offer platforms for anti-bullying, cultural diversity, body positivity, and self-care, as well as programs for parents of LGBT children who are in search of guidance. They also have pop up fundraisers, Gay Bingo nights, and other fun events at different locations, including Misuta Chows most recently.
GLYS provides information on safe sex, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other STI prevention and education, and other kinds of therapy such as gender dysphoria, transitioning genders, and guidance for those who identify as intersex. They also emphasize overall medical health, physical and mental. Staff will assist in issues regarding any medical condition and are passionate and patient when helping queer folk. They are more than happy to accompany someone to appointments regarding conditions related to the LGBT community.
In the past, they have offered grants and scholarships for LGBT students through other organizations, and have resources for LGBT-friendly colleges.
The center on Delaware features a beautiful bookshelf with plenty of LGBT characters, representation, and information. GLYS also has a reading list on their website and secured titles with gay, bi, and transgender depictions in public high school libraries across western New York counties. In addition to that, they have resources for those looking for LGBT positive churches and businesses that would assist couples in wedding planning.
GLYS often collaborates with other local organizations, including the Pride Center, Planned Parenthood, Men of Color Health Awareness, Just Buffalo Literary Center, Just Buffalo Writing Center, and WNY Children’s Psych Center.
For those interested, The Center has a few events coming up, including the GSA Conference on March 27th. Then, GLYS hosts a Pride Prom in June – over the years, attendance has grown exponentially, and participants are regular marchers at the Pride Parade.
In the 80’s, the gay scene was primarily underground, but GLYS is proud and in the public eye!
While the GLYS website is currently being revamped, it still supplies useful information for LGBT locals on a variety of topics. You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and check out their website for more details!