Welcoming all LGBTQ+ youth at Passages

Passages is Kansas City’s only youth center dedicated to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning youth, and straight allies, operating now for over 23 years! We are open every Wednesday night from 5:30 to 9 PM to ages 14 to 20.

Why am I passionate about Passages?

Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Jason Webb, and I’m a manager at Accenture, a global consulting firm, by day. Among the many other hats I wear are those of a board member and a volunteer, with my partner, Jason Boman, at Passages. It is Passages that I want to talk about here, to share my story with you and give you a glimpse into why our community service providers are critically important.

A college classmate and I recently talked about faith and interpretations of Bible verses. I wasn’t out in college, so I had to first ground the perspective I shared with my classmate in a truthful explanation of who I was. I’m from small-town Kansas, just outside of Topeka. Growing up, I always knew something in my being was different compared to my peers. Given the conservative locale, I had no other points of reference and assumed through high school that there is only one path to happiness: Marry the girl, buy the house, and have kids.

So, although I knew I was attracted to men, I wore a mask because I didn’t know that was a valid option. In my adolescent context, gay was only a derogatory word, not a word I could wear proudly, with a path to happiness. I struggled through the suicide of a friend and contemplated ending my own life.

In college, I was ever more aware that my sexuality did not match the heterosexual norms around me. But I feared losing friends and alienating family, and I made a conscious decision to live, effectively, a double life. Sadly, I was not ready to be truthful to myself or authentic with others.

Finally, a year after college and into the working world, I took some solitary vacation time and came to terms with my identity. I knew my employer had the right protective policies in place. I was no longer financially dependent on family. I had a safety net in place and, for me, the balance of needing to be authentic finally outweighed any consequences from coming out to friends, family, and coworkers. Moreover, I had found love and I patiently await the day to legally marry him.

I realize that my story is not unique. But it is against this background of being fearful to be myself, of not having any LGBT resources in my youth, of not having an adequate support network in place, that I developed a passion for ensuring that youth in and around metro Kansas City have a resource available where they can be themselves, where they can take off the mask, where they can let their guard down, and where their safety is assured with no judgment from their peers. This is exactly Passages’ mission.

Better yet, Passages is not alone. There are a number of locally run LGBT community organizations that fill every niche, from youth activism, to violence crisis support, to parental support, to resources for the homeless, to health-care access. Each is critical to the progressive LGBT community of Kansas City.

Now you know why I’m passionate about Passages and the opportunity to spend time every week helping our youth and their families navigate their own journeys into our community.

I encourage you to look at your personal journey and those of your friends, and unlock a philanthropic passion of your own. Maybe it is at a place like Passages, or one of the other great local service providers. Become familiar with their mission, their leaders, and their operations. Think about how you’re best able to show your support. Consider providing your time as a volunteer or pledging financial support to allow these great organizations to continue their legacies.

In the future, this column will feature community perspectives from Passages’ youth, alumni and volunteers. The goal will be to highlight resources, issues and personal stories relevant to metro LGBTQIA youth.

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