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An organization that provides support for lesbian and gay young people is starting a chapter in Hendersonville.
Youth OUTright WNC Inc., which has held weekly support meetings for LGBTQ youth (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) in Asheville for the past three years, is expanding to Hendersonville. The first meeting will be held on Saturday, Sept. 8, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Hendersonville (United Church of Christ), 1735 Fifth Avenue West, in Laurel Park.
The Hendersonville meetings, which are sponsored by the First Congregational Church, Love Welcomes All and PFLAG of Hendersonville/Flat Rock, will be held monthly on second Saturdays.
Susan Blexrud, vice chair of Youth OUTright, said the Asheville chapter meetings generally have eight to 10 young people attending.
"So far, the first one is going to be more kind of a meet and greet," she said of the meeting next month. While the Asheville chapter was created to serve 18 Western North Carolina counties, "it was just too far" for teenagers to come from other counties. "We have found that most of the youth who come come from the Asheville area. Right now we're just excited about expanding into Hendersonville."
Although Hendersonville is more conservative than Asheville, Blexrud said she did not expect protests.
"We haven't had pushback" about the meetings, she said. "We had a booth at Bele Chere and I think on Friday and Saturday there were some anti-gay groups and some anti-gay signs. I would have to say we've never had an issue, and I'm knocking on wood when I say that."
The organization in the three years since it began has "served a thousand youth," Blexrud said. "It's just like a group of kids anywhere. Some of them talk a lot and some of them just sit back and listen."
Other advocates for gay and lesbian young people applauded the effort.
"In my work with gay and lesbian students of Henderson County, I have become aware of the need for a safe place for them to meet with others like themselves and others who are allies," Jerry Miller, PFLAG chapter president, said in a news release. "We, as members of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), are pleased to welcome a satellite group of Youth OutRight to help fill that need."
Jim Faucett, executive director of Youth OUTright, added: "It's very important to Youth OUTright to reach as many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth — and their straight youth allies — as possible throughout WNC. By expanding from our base in Asheville into Henderson County, we will continue to have a positive impact on more youth and their families."
Youth OUTright WNC, a 501c-3 not-for-profit organization, offers discussion groups and social activities for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth ages 14 through 23. Topics and activities are led by two trained facilitators. Youth OUTright's mission is to empower LGBTQ youth to be confident and vital members of the greater community.
For additional information visit www.youthoutright.org