Shenandoah LGBTQ Center mission of support continues
By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
STAUNTON — Growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or queer can be confusing and isolating. But a nonprofit in the Queen City is available with support, assistance and kindness.
“So, our center is located in 2,000 square feet of the fifth floor [of the Masonic building at 13 W. Beverley Street],” said AnhThu Nguyen, executive director of the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center.
Founded in the Staunton Innovation Hub more than three years ago by Chris Wood, the center moved into the Masonic building in early 2019, where it has a banquet hall and space for social gatherings.
“We really view our center as being a community connector,” Nguyen said. “And we’ll continue that work.”
In 2022, the center hopes “to really see some actionable change in two areas,” according to Nguyen, and to continue to eliminate barriers for LGBTQ youth in Staunton, Waynesboro, Augusta, Highland and Rockingham counties, and Lexington.
In the new year, Nguyen said the center hopes to focus on improving housing and health care options for LGBTQ youth. Hope House is an emergency shelter program in Staunton where youth ages 18 to 24 can find immediate assistance. In 2021, the center assisted 15 youth with the program.
“There is such a need in this area,” Nguyen said of housing for LGBTQ youth, who are more at risk for becoming homeless if kicked out of their family’s home. “We’re finding these youth are being kicked out with no place to go.”
The Shenandoah area has challenges for LGBTQ youth when it comes to transportation options in rural areas, Nguyen said. As well as the second focus the center will have in 2022: health care options.
Access to health care is a challenge especially for transgendered and non-binary youth, according to Nguyen. Most of their options are in Charlottesville, which creates transportation challenges.
“Our focus in the next year is really providing [opportunities for health care],” Nguyen said. For transgendered youth particularly, special situations require intimate conversations with health care providers.
The center is developing an outreach location in Harrisonburg called the Friendly City Safe Space.
“That’s been very exciting to see the community response,” Nguyen said. And developing outreach in other locations will continue for the center.
Nguyen became executive director in early November. Wood serves as president of the center’s board of directors.
“Chris’s vision has been our guiding and north star for the center,” Nguyen said of the center’s founder.