While many are becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, youth suicide rates are around three to six times more likely to occur with those who identify as a sexual minority. This is one of the central reasons four Ignacio community members decided to launch Southwest Rainbow Youth, the area’s first LGBTQ+ organization.
SWRY is in the early stages. The group will host its first meet-and-greet on March 15 at the Ignacio Community Library. Members are currently looking for a permanent location to meet as well as fundraising opportunities. SWRY aims to create a safe space to empower LGBTQ+ youth and act as an outlet for kids who may be struggling.
The founding members are all part of the LGBTQ+ community themselves. Edward III and Anthony Box, and Precious and Trennie Collins, both married couples, are the trailblazers.
“We all went through some sort of bias, some hardship, but we found each other and are living good lives,” Precious said. “Edward calls it his white picket fence.”
It’s their unique experiences that equip the team to connect with young people who may be struggling with self-acceptance, identity issues and other hurdles. The founders met with organizations such as Four Corners Rainbow Youth Center, San Juan Basin Public Health and others to put together a roadmap for SWRY. The team also recently took a mental health first-aid course. The training teaches how to recognize and respond to people who are in mental distress.
“We will be the open ears that can listen, and then (we can) direct them to where they need to go to get help,” Anthony said.
SWRY is connecting with professionals in the community who can further assist kids who may need help. They said the community has been supportive in their efforts and see a need for SWRY.
The team chose Southwest Rainbow Youth instead of “Ignacio” Rainbow Youth because they are open to everyone in the surrounding areas. But it’s essential for them to make a difference on their home turf.
“It’s important to us as Native Americans to give back and educate the tribe and other natives who live here,” Trennie said.
Education is a major goal of SWRY. The absence of a prior LGBTQ+ organization hints to a lack of support. Being a rural community, some still carry biases or stereotypes that LGBTQ+ people are promiscuous, substance abusers, or their sexual identity is a result of trauma. The founders think it’s the adults who will benefit the most from education.
“For the most part, kids are more accepting. Now, it’s dealing with the older generations not accepting their kids, not educating themselves and not trying to understand,” Trennie said. “With the new generation, you’re playing a new ball game. They have gender identity, sexual orientation ... And to even me – I’m not that old – I’m like, ‘holy crap.’”
SWRY ally Bobbie Rosa noticed a change in her kids’ friend groups.
“It was encouraging and it gave me a piece of mind that it didn’t seem like it was back in the ’80s. Everybody was just friends,” Rosa said. “I felt proud of those kids.”
But the battle is far from over.
“Kids here live in secrecy. We know of some who live in secrecy. But there is hope here, too,” Precious said. “Everyone has been touched by someone or knows someone who identifies as anything other than heterosexual. It’s not this foreign thing.”