LGBT youth center opens in Fort Myers

LGBT youth center opens in Fort Myers

By Patrick Nolan. CREATED Mar 5, 2012

FORT MYERS - Southwest Florida's newest youth center is stressing that it's open to everyone - especially gay, lesbian, transgendered youth who might feel out of place at other local hangouts.

It's called Visuality. It promises to provide a safe and welcoming environment where youth can engae in social activities, educational programs and peer support groups.

It's a drop-in, drug and alcohol free center.

There is no cost to attend.

Right now, the center is open two days and one evening a week. 

The center is open to 18 to 22 year-olds one day and to 14 to 17 year-olds on another.

It also plans to hold several special events throughout the year. 

The 2200 square foot facility is located in the Royal Palm Shopping Plaza (which also houses Broadway Palm Dinner Theater on Colonial Boulevard and Summerlin Boulevard in Fort Myers.)

The facility offers a library, pool table, cafe, audio visual equipment, and a game area.

The founders say it's a great place to relax, watch movies, play games with peers and finish their homework!

"The need is a safe and welcoming place where you can be yourself," says Carrie Keohane, Vice President of Visuality.

"There's no risk of bullying, which is a big problem - especially with teenagers."

"They may not be accepted at home or at school and they can come here, find people that understand them," she adds.

The issue of gay teen suicide has come to the forefront in America in the past couple years, as a number of teens and college students have taken their own lives after relentless bullying and/or rejection from their families.

FGCU student Cathryn Hillegass says it's crucial youth have a chance to know there is a safe place to go when they feel there are no other options.

She choked up as she told us about a friend from high school who tried to kill herself. 
"I couldn't stop crying," she says.
"Even though she was alive I could not stop crying because just the thought that I might lose her just brought me to tears, and it still kind of makes my eyes well," adds Cathryn.
She describes some of the horrifying things she's seen some gay, lesbian, transgendered, and questioning youth turn to as they struggled in high school.
"There was a lot of cutting and self mutilating because they think "If I physically hurt myself then it'll take away the psychological pain that I'm feeling,'" says Cathryn. 
She's hoping Visuality can turn that pain into empowerment. 
"I want to save one person that didn't think they could make it," she says.
"That would be the greatest thing that I could do." 
Patrick Nolan

Patrick Nolan

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Patrick has been a proud member of the FOX 4 team since 2003. He is the co-anchor of the the 6, 10 and, 11 o'clock news.