Cafe Pride Welcomes LGBT Youth
Harassment, depression, substance abuse, homelessness and suicide. These are just a few of the myriad issues that often face LGBTQ youth, initiating a vicious cycle that leaves some feeling short on options and short on hope.
In recognition of the unique needs of LGBT youth, a group of Lake View churches decided to do something to break the cycle: They created Cafe Pride. Originally focused on small group discussions and support, the program has evolved from its creation in the late ’90s into a weekly safe social space for 16- to 24-year-old queer youth and their allies, held from 8 p.m. to midnight on Fridays. The program is hosted by the Lake View Presbyterian Church to provide a safe haven to youth, many of whom admittedly lack positive past experiences with religion.
"I can’t stress enough how this congregation saw a need and responded with open arms to provide a place like Cafe Pride for the youth. As much as we do for the youth in those four hours, we are also energized by their presence here," explained Larissa Kwong Abazia, Lake View Presbyterian’s associate pastor and lead organizer of the program. We don’t open our doors because we feel obligated, we open them because we feel called to be a part of this community in all aspects of what we do...and LGBT youth are not an exception to this! A place like this needed to become a reality and we heeded that call."
January will mark the first anniversary of Lake View Presbyterian hosting Cafe Pride, and according to Abazia, it has been a year of learning experiences and excitement as they prepare for future growth. The program is staffed entirely by volunteers who give up their Friday night plans each week to spend time with the youth, some of whom have been coming to the social hour for years. On average, 40 or 50 people stop by over the course of a night.
"We open our doors each Friday night for youth to come in, enjoy some snacks, hang out with friends, or simply be in a place to be away from the street for four hours," said Abazia. "Some of our youth are homeless or have intricate living situations; [some] need nothing more than a warm place to rest their head before going back onto the street. Cafe Pride provides a place where they can come as they are and be a part of a community that affirms them.
Cafe Pride is just one of many efforts made by Lake View Presbyterian to be welcoming to LGBT people of all ages. In 2002, the church was recognized as a More Light Congregation, joining a network of Presbyterian churches around the country that affirm and work toward full participation from members of the LGBT community. Additionally, the church actively participates in the annual Market Days on Halsted Street, celebrates Pride Month each June with special worship services and has hosted the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus practices for the past fifteen years.
And in these days of Rev. Warren and the passage of Prop. 8, it might be surprising to some to note that Lake View Presbyterian is far from alone as an openly LGBT-friendly church in the Chicago area. An affiliation of gay-friendly congregations in the city, The Chicago Coalition for Welcoming Churches, boasts nearly 40 affiliated congregations, and Abazia noted that she works closely with several other churches to be consistently inclusive of all.
"Cafe Pride shows how much the world has changed and the ways that this church has grown with that change," said Abazia. "I find that many congregations in this neighborhood are responding to the needs of the [LGBT] community and within their own walls; we all walk together in this way."