Circle of Friends

The days of adolesence aren’t easy. Judgement, scrutiny and feelings of isolation are not unheard of when you’re a teenager.

But for gay or lesbian teens, their sexuality is an added life factor that can amplify adolescent insecurity to extremes leading to depression and even suicide.

Two unnamed Bayview High School students — in a news release from the newly-formed Whidbey Giving Circle — acknowledged the pain caused by homophobic remarks from their peers (names were withheld to protect privacy).

“I think it’s a lack of understanding that people say these kinds of things,” one of the students said. “They don’t realize it could really hurt someone when you hear negative remarks every day at school.”

Both agree that having resources on island to help youth feel supported is needed.

“Having a place where someone can go to talk to an understanding adult to help them figure out how to get help, like a place or a club at school where people will understand my particular views,” a student said.

Now, thanks to the formation of a new nonprofit organization, that safe haven may soon be in sight.

Since last August, the 20 or so members of the Whidbey Giving Circle have met to talk about the needs of the island’s youth. The Giving Circle hopes to work to show support for and give monetary means to organizations to create programs and forums to understand the issues faced by young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people.

“It’s a question of to what extent a community is aware of its issues in its own community and the differences in lifestyle in each community,” said Jean Singer, Giving Circle member. “Our goal isn’t to segregate the LGBT community, it’s to join the fuller community of the island.”

The group has already raised more than $13,000, a grand majority of which will be awarded in grants. This first-ever grant year will focus on youth, while it is hoped the grant program will expand in the future to serve programs for adults as well.

“Our intention in future years is to continue with youth and branch out into other areas that support building an inclusive and welcoming community,” said Eric Mulholland, Giving Circle member.

Deadline for the grant applications is April 30.

The group is eager to get the word out about the available funding and has kept the process accessible to interested parties.

“We can’t wait to see what comes back,” Singer said.

“The application is relatively simple to complete, compared to many grant applications,” said Giving Circle member Claire Moore.

The Whidbey Giving Circle is working under the umbrella of the Pride Foundation, a Seattle-based nonprofit that connects, inspires and strengthens the Pacific Northwest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in pursuit of equality. It accomplishes this by awarding grants and scholarships to cultivate leaders.

“Right now there is no self-identified support group for gay youth on island,” said Singer, who herself is a former boardmember of the Pride Foundation. “The Pride Foundation has been a major support and we are thankful because they are such a successful group.”

Singer said that there were already a number of people on Whidbey who regularly gave to the Pride Foundation, but because there wasn’t awareness on Whidbey of LGBT support, no one locally applied for the funds.

“The support wasn’t coming back into this community because no one knew about it,” she said.

The Whidbey Giving Circle’s main function is fundraising to bring donations directly home that would have otherwise filtered down from other regional organizations.

“A giving circle is a way for people in a community to get together to pool their money and efforts towards causes they feel are important,” Singer explained of the group’s naming.

“It feels great to see a group of people committing themselves to making our community safer for LGBT youth and for children of LGBT parents and, really, all children,” said Coupeville resident Jan Pickard in a news release. “We want all kids to feel safe to be who they are.”

While waiting for those grant applications to arrive, the Giving Circle will continue to spread word of the availability of the funds, as well as encourage others to join them in dialogue.

“We have been and will continue to do a lot of outreach, talking to different groups and schools,” Singer said. “In my heart I know there’s a huge ability for this island to support the gay community.”

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