YouthZone Offers Three Different Support Locations in Garfield County for LGBTQIA+ Youth

Written by Katherine Tomanek, published in the Post Independent on January 10, 2024

Read the Article on the Post Independent website HERE.


The “Love Notes” project collected more than 900 messages of affirmation for LGBTQIA+ youth throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. Brijetta Waller/Courtesy photo

Travis Wilson, a Client Service Specialist at YouthZone, facilitates The Space in three different locations for LGBTQIA+ youth.

“This is for those kids who don’t have a lot of support at home, at school, or maybe they just need a little extra,” he said. “It’s for anyone aged 12 to 18.”

The event is funded by the Colorado Health Foundation, which is a private foundation that helps to bring good health within reach of all Coloradans. AspenOUT, who provides support to LGBTQIA+ population in the valley, covers the rental space cost.

“Mostly I get middle schoolers, around four each time. The most I’ve ever had is five. I don’t get a lot of high schoolers because they’re at school, working, or don’t have transportation. We’re here if they need it,” Wilson said.

Wilson partners with many of the Gay/Straight Alliances (GSAs) at the high schools. Some have been renamed to Gender/Sexuality Alliances.

“I’ve been getting a lot of requests for GSA support from the schools. It’s been successful and we help the schools connect with each other, but down valley is harder,” Wilson said.

Janet Gordon, a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Carbondale, works alongside Wilson to help queer youth in the valley.

“My area of speciality is working with LGBTQIA+ folks. Around 75% of my clients identify as a letter under the rainbow, and 50% are transgender, non-binary, or gender nonconforming,” she said.

Gordon provides counseling work, helps Wilson facilitate the Space, and works with PFLAG and AspenOUT. Before all that, she said she worked to support the GSAs in the local high schools.

“Eight years ago, I started at the Aspen Hope Center and AspenOUT to help the LGBTQIA+ youth because there’s a higher suicide rate in these kids. I would get calls on the help line, but I had nowhere to direct them because there were no resources. There’s this need but no one’s addressing it. I got a certification so I don’t have to tell these kids that there’s no one to help,” Gordon explained.

She said that kids and adults alike need support because mental health is important.

“I had a young person come to me after one of the elections because the country voted in a way that told them they didn’t deserve to exist, so I decided we had to show up to work and make this better,” Gordon said.

Giving healthy and correct resources and access to them is important for everyone and The Space is one way to do that.

“The Space has no agenda, we’re just hanging out and creating a safe space for kids to not be harassed or judged. We played Uno last time,” Gordon said.

Just having the knowledge that the meeting space is there can be enough. Gordon said people have called and said that they never went, but took comfort in knowing it was there when they were ready.

“To be an ally, we have to state we’re making a safe community, we can’t presume that people know that,” Gordon said.

Help isn’t just available to LGBTQIA+ adults and kids, but also for the parents of those kids, at an event called Rifle Pizza and Game Night, sponsored by PFLAG and Loving Beyond Understanding.

“We don’t have a lot of parents showing up, but it’s not because they’re bigoted. They just don’t have the time,” Wilson said. “We’re working on making that event virtual.”

“It’s a space to talk about parents’ questions, concerns, and about fears about having a kid who identifies as LGBTQIA+. Having a place to talk about it and how to protect their children from hate they see is important,” Gordon said.

Another way that schools are providing help to LGBTQIA+ students is a new offer of scholarships. Caleb Cook, who runs Cook Inclusive, which is dedicated to queer advocacy, started it.

“We had a focus group as a response to a tragedy in the LGBTQIA+ community. After this focus group, the kids came up with the scholarship idea to help the GSAs,” he said.

The scholarship, which was given out to six kids for its pilot year of 2024, is for $5,000. It’s given to kids in their junior year of high school, specifically for leaders of GSAs, and they work the entire year to achieve it.

Wilson works closely with many of these organizations and all of it starts with being available for support.

The Space group is in Rifle on Mondays from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m., Glenwood on Tuesdays from 4 to 5 p.m. and Basalt on Wednesdays from 3 to 4 p.m. They ask for anyone who wants to go to call 970-945-9300 or email Travis Wilson at [email protected] for more info and to RSVP to know how many will be attending.

For the Rifle Pizza and Game Night parent meeting in Rifle location and details, email [email protected]. It’s on the fourth Thursday of every month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The next one is scheduled for Jan. 25, but remember, they will be moving to virtual meetings soon. More information is here.