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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Social-networking site launches for LGBT teens
by Charlsie Dewey
2012-03-07

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LGBT teens have a new social-networking site they can call their own.

JustLeftTheCloset.com launched in February and is a social-networking space for kids just coming out or not quite out yet to connect with one another. The site is for kids age 13-18 and has already added nearly 800 members in its first three weeks.

"We wanted to give kids a community where they knew there were other people like them," said Just Left The Closet Community Manager Jeremy Cabalona. "Growing up I kind of dealt with a lot of the same things, being in a small, isolated community and not really having any friends and being in a really conservative family without anyone to talk to. Feeling like I was the only person going through this. Having a resource where there are other kids going through the exact same thing in a non-threatening environment and a safe environment, I felt would have made a huge difference in my life so I've always wanted to do something like this."

Unlike Facebook, Cabalona said the website offers gay kids a greater opportunity to be themselves.

"On Facebook, your friends from school are on there, your family is on there," he said. "For a kid who is just coming out or not out yet they can't really say anything on there or be themselves on there. The goal of Just Left the Closet is to get someone who needs that space, who needs a bit of anonymity, or somewhere to just talk about how their day is going without being judged. A big part of Just Left the Closet is giving them that safety."

Cabalona and founder Tomo Delaney decided to create the website in response to the onslaught of teen bullying stories and suicides that continue to occur across the country. The site is designed to be a safe space for teens to be themselves.

Cabalona said that visitors are encouraged to select user names. The site also does not offer a photo album feature and kids are reminded not to post photos of themselves if they are not comfortable or out. The site also emphasizes users' ability to block or report anyone who makes them uncomfortable. Cabalona and Delaney monitor all content that is posted on the site for appropriateness as well.

Teens can also find links to TheTrevorProject.org and ItGetsBetter.org for support and help with the issues they are struggling with. Cabalona said in the future they hope to be able to create a state-by-state resource list.

However, the main purpose of the site is to give teens an opportunity to share their coming out stories, inspirational quotes or comments, tough experiences they are facing and just have fun talking with one another. In the future besides the postcard feature, which is the way in which kids send messages to one another, the site will also offer an open forum for discussion.

"I think their user experience is a lot different than on Facebook because you are kind of interacting with people who you might not necessarily know, but who you know understand you," Cabalona said.

For more information, visit www.JustLeftTheCloset.com .


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