DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The LGBTQ Center of Durham received news of a six-figure funding increase right in the middle of Pride Month.

“It feels extra sweet for the timing. We were in New York City at a conference on ending youth homelessness when I first got the announcement,” the Center’s executive director Helena Cragg said.”We were up the street from Stonewall. It just felt that much more resonant to get the news at that moment.

“Then with this being local pride and the first year we’re celebrating it is just icing on top of the cake.”

LGBT Pride Month takes place in June in honor the protesters involved in the Stonewall riots on June 28 and 29, 1969.

“If we can capture and meet the needs of young people so much earlier, we can break the cycles that would have them face family rejection and not know how to handle it, or get into a cycle to leads them towards homelessness,” Cragg said.

Voters in Durham’s pilot Participatory Budgeting program approved $113,300 for the creation of an LGBTQ+ Youth Center. The city received several hundred suggestions of community improvements, for which the city allocated $2.4 million.

A short list of several dozen projects was open to voting in May.

The city announced the winning projects in mid-June, and voters in all three wards picked the LGBTQ+ Youth Center as a priority.

“There’s something particularly important about that voice coming from the community. This is not something that our leadership has come to a conclusion and has to face a critique about whether that was a good use of resources,” Cragg said.

“As we continue to do this work, we can lean on and point back to the fact that the community resoundingly voted for this. That’s an extra affirmation than just a handful of city council people. It’s really the community saying they see the need, they support the need, and we will ask the community to continue supporting the work.”

Amber Esters said she and other Center staff members will ask youth to offer input about what they want the new expansion to include. 

“This place is a very affirming, very welcoming, open environment. We welcome any and everybody,” Esters said.

“While youth can come in and do whatever they please, having a place directly for especially queer-identifying youth is something we’re really excited about. A little less hands-on from adults, they have the free reign to do the things they want to do, express the way they feel is best for them, and it’s just a safe environment for them.”

The city’s current MyDurham activities for teenagers do not currently have any recognized safe and affirming programs for LGBTQ + youth.

Cragg said it is vital to offer opportunities where teens — who may face ostracization for coming out — can talk to people who have already been through those challenges.

“When you speak to most LGBTQ people, they wish that there had been a place like the one that we hope to implement. Everybody I know has come into their understanding of who they are much earlier in their life,” Craig said.

“Recognizing that you’re not different, this is just who you are, and having a place to navigate that and understand it and be with people who understand what you’re going through, earlier in life, would just solve so many of the traumas and dilemmas that our young people go through.”

The Participatory Budgeting impact statement for the Youth Center said: “research shows that the academic and life challenges which LGBTQ youth are  more likely to experience leave them feeling isolated and unsupported, sometimes leading to harassment at school, poor grades, anxiety, and avoidance from school participation, potentially escalating to depression, substance abuse, self harm, and suicide.”

The North Carolina Child Health Report Card found more than than 40 percent of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students have reported trying to kill themselves, which is nearly triple the suicide rate among heterosexual students.

Some are kicked out of their homes and may find it difficult to obtain housing.

The LGBTQ Center of Durham recently launched a host home program for young adults, aged 18-24, experiencing homelessness due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“They’re able to stay with a host for up to six months, and while they’re in this program, they get to earn some life skills,” Esters said. “It is very inclusive of other services, but the primary goal is to get them independent and able to live on their own and able to stay on their own.”

A Pride: Durham Summer Celebration and Reception took place Tuesday night at Carolina Theatre of Durham.

A Pride: Durham Festival and Parade will take place Saturday, September 28, 2019.