Q Plus helps LGBTQ youth find safe, affirming space and support

In eighth grade, Oliver Przech realized he was transgender. He didn’t know any other trans people. It was scary.

“I had no GSA, no community space, nowhere to turn. Being in that position was incredibly isolating,” Przech said.

A few months later, the LGBTQ youth organization Q Plus was founded and Przech discovered it. It changed his life and other teens’ lives changed, too.

“Many, many people have told me that Q Plus is the only time all week that they feel safe, that they don’t have to worry about their name and pronouns, that they don’t have to be afraid to express themselves,” he said.

Q Plus was founded in 2018 by Mel Cordner. Cordner said they created the grassroots group to fill in where the now-defunct True Colors left off.

“I was working at True Colors as a [Genders Sexuality Alliance] and activity coordinator. It was very strict about what we could and could not do,” they said. “I knew a bunch of queer kids who wanted to do an open mic. They couldn’t do it in that nonprofit world. But I thought, I’m an adult. I can sign papers. If they want to do this, why don’t we just do it?”

In 2021, citing pandemic financial woes, True Colors folded most of its operations. Q Plus was the net that caught the LGBTQ teens who had been left without a safe space.

Since then, Q Plus has grown. It offers activity, crafts and game nights, monthly chats, services for schools such as GSA (gay-straight alliance) consultations and professional development for teachers, counselors and social workers.

But the core of Q Plus is its support groups, for teens, preteens, parents and for Black and brown LGBTQ youths.

“We felt the need for that sort of organization early on. A lot of youth spaces are very white and that’s fine, but they don’t have that unique perspective and those unique needs,” said Cordner, who lives in New Britain.

Meetings are held all over the Capitol region: in Hartford, New Haven, Middletown, Southington, Portland and West Hartford. Virtual meetings also are available.

“In the nonprofit world, there is this attitude, we’re the adults here, it’s our job to help kids figure it out,” Cordner said. “There is this dismissal of what kids say, that they are not mature enough to know what they actually need. That is not true. They may just not know how to articulate it in the vocabulary of the adult world.

“Kids I know were like, we don’t feel heard. But more than anything, they needed a safe place to hang out and make friends without the pressure to avoid homophobia.”

Q Plus is funded by grants and donations and has a staff of 20 to 25, all of them part-time except Cordner. Przech is one of the newest staff members.

“They offered me a job. It’s a way to save money for life-saving gender-affirming treatment. They’ve given me a space to develop my leadership skills and prepare for a career in working with queer youth,” he said.

“Life-saving” is a vital consideration with LGBTQ teens. According to the Trevor Project, “LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers,” and “more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S.”

Factors in suicidal ideation include discrimination, bullying, microaggressions, internalized self-stigma, a sense of not belonging at their school, housing instability, family emotional neglect and a lack of an affirming social space.

Q Plus provides that affirming space. The age range for Q Plus services is 7 to 20. The preteens touch Przech’s heart.

“Seeing kids that age finding community and support at Q Plus just makes me so happy. Kids that age need the space to explore themselves and I’m so glad it is available to them,” he said.

Cordner said their hopes for Q Plus are simple: They just want people to know Q Plus exists.

“We’re here. We’re not as well-known as I think we should be. Not everybody knows we exist yet,” they said. “Once they know we exist, we can go from there.”

Q Plus will have a “Sweet Treat Gala” fundraiser on March 25 from 5 to 9 p.m. at The Glastonbury Boathouse, 252 Welles St. Admission is $125 or $1,000 for a 10-seat table. Admission covers food, an array of desserts and entertainment by drag performers Tiki Malone, Ambrosia Black and Arya Black. There will be a cash bar, silent auction and selfie stations. Tickets can be bought at q-plus.ticketleap.com. To donate to Q Plus, visit qplusct.org/donate.

Susan Dunne can be reached at sdunne@courant.com.