Chicago's south suburbs has recently gotten a bit more inclusive with the help of a local LGBTQ organization called Lighthouse.
Lighthouse is in organization designed to support LGBTQ youth and their families. Stephanie Wright, Valerie Litchfield and Phillip Barker, a social worker at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, founded the organization last April. Both Wright and Litchfield bonded over having sons who were gay and, after driving multiple times for more than 45 minutes into the city, realized that there was no spot in their suburban community specifically catered to LGBT youth and/or parents. That was when the idea of Lighthouse started.
Since then, Lighthouse has served as a support group for teens and young adults "who are discovering their sexual identity," said project manager Jimmy Austin. The organization is typically self-funded. However, Flossmoor Community Churchwhere Wright and Austin are youth leadersdonates meeting space as well as money every year to the organization. "We have limited funding but it is enough to keep us going," said Austin.
Lighthouse holds meetings the third Wednesday of each month. Although the group's numbers aren't too high ( averaging about 15 youths a meeting ), Lighthouse's June 21 Pride celebration suggested those numbers could be going up very soon. What Lighthouse organizers thought would be a 30-person event actually brought in more than 300 people to celebrate with food, fun and music. "The people were from all overFrankfort, Tinley Park, Naperville and Kankakee," said Austin of the event, called the south suburbs' first-ever Pride celebration. "To our knowledge, there has been no other Pride event in the south suburbs, let alone of that size." Mayor Richard Hofeld of Homewood and Mayor Paul Braun Flossmoor also attended.
Organizers of Lighthouse, which is still in the process of becoming a registered 501( c )( 3 ) non-profit organization, said that 14 Flossmoor businesses donated to its pride celebration. However, "none of the businesses were solicited whatsoever," said Austin. When asked why he thought businesses were so eager to support Lighthouse all of a sudden, Austin credited the unexpected support to the Village of Flossmoor's updated website. Flossmoor recently added an LGBTQ community resource tab to its website, which Lighthouse took a screen shot of and shared on its Facebook page. Shortly after, Lighthouse had received more than 4,000 interactions on that post alone and the support from businesses started pouring in, according to Austin.
After its successful Pride celebration, Lighthouse has been thinking more about the future of its mission and vision, according to Austin. In addition to the aforementioned registration, Lighthouse hopes to start having more "themed" meetings per month.
Overall, developing Lighthouse has been more fun than actual work, according to Austin, who recently came out two years ago. He added that coming out can be a "lonely road." He also explained that if there was an organization like Lighthouse around when he was younger, it would have given him "peace of mind" just knowing that support was there if he needed it. "We want to make sure kids struggling with their identity feel as comfortable as possible in their community; that's our number one priority." Said Austin. When finishing his statement about Lighthouse's future, Austin said that he knows Lighthouse will have to evolve depending on the LGBTQ community's needs but it helps that they have "such a supportive community and the response has been overwhelming."
For more information on Lighthouse, visit its website at www.LighthouseLgbtq.org/.