Being who you are shouldn’t compromise your safety nor access to professional opportunities.
There are two specific entities based in the city of Louisville that are within arm’s length for individuals who identify as LGBTQ+.
Sweet Evening Breeze and Civitas are on standby for those in need.
Sweet Evening Breeze, located at 801 Barret Ave., Ste. 211, helps LGBTQ+ people aged between 18 to 24, that are experiencing homelessness. They also serve as a walk-in center offering counseling, referrals, safe needle exchange, inclusivity training, mental health services, free HIV testing, a computer lab, an LGBTQ+ library, transgender peer support, free notary and shelter in the form of hotel vouchers (Hotel Louisville) and permanent housing (which will be based on a case by case basis) starting in the fall.
“We know that about 10% of the youth population identifies as queer,” Sweet Evening Breeze executive director Glenn Martin told Leo Weekly. “Four percent of those queer [youth] struggle with homelessness. We estimate or guesstimate that roughly around 200 to 250 youth in our streets, identify as queer and homeless in the Louisville area.”
Martin believes that many LGBTQ+ individuals that are either experiencing homelessness or at risk of facing homelessness, seek a shelter where there are others who look like and represent the LGBTQ+ community. He described that some shelters aren’t LGBTQ+ friendly. Detailing that some queer people have experienced discrimination, harassment and have been victims of physical violence in the past at some of the other shelters nearby.
Max, a recipient of multiple services at Sweet Evening Breeze, acknowledged that the organization served as a lifeline for them during a critical period in their life.
“When I first came to Sweet Evening Breeze, I was not in a very good situation, and I needed a place to go to,” Max said. Had it not been for Sweet Evening Breeze, I would have been on the streets, and since then I have been in some other situations where I was almost on the streets and Sweet Evening Breeze put me in a hotel.”
Max had dealt with homelessness on multiple occasions since moving to Louisville. Max spent countless nights in the homes of other people. They slept in backyards and behind stores and other local establishments. Max described the woman they pursued to be in a relationship with as “abusive.” During a tumultuous period in the relationship, Max said that they learned of Sweet Evening Breeze, and with their help, Max received meals to eat and toiletries. Additionally, Sweet Evening Breeze kept track of the turmoil Max encountered in their relationship. When Max’s ex-partner kicked them out, Sweet Evening Breeze connected them with the Urban League, who then helped Max find permanent housing.
The hotel vouchers provided by Sweet Evening Breeze are free and are awarded depending on an individual’s circumstance. Typically, vouchers are honored for five nights, but again, it depends on the need of the person. Any individual with a voucher is reassessed to stay for an additional five days if necessary. Through a discounted rate with Hotel Louisville, Sweet Evening Breeze covers the cost of $50 a night. The hotel vouchers are funded through small grants donated by contributors as well as from individuals that support Sweet Evening Breeze’s Go Fund Me page for Client Housing and Transportation Assistance.
Regarding the challenges that LGBTQ+ individuals have faced in the past; program manager Stuart Walker emphasized that safety and comfort are intertwined, and it starts with accommodations.
“Most of the shelters in the area are not trained on how to interact with LGBTQ+ people and are not trained on the specific needs,” Walker said. “Even something as simple as using pronouns. Placing them in the right spots, they’re a little bit muddy on how to do that. Shelters usually have a gendered section, so there’s a women’s section and a men’s section, and obviously, when you have a transgender individual who identifies as a woman but isn’t on hormones, without training and without that focus on LGBTQ+ individuals, they’ll have a difficult time treating transgender and LGBTQ+ people with the respect and the comfort that they need.”
The 28-year-old Max, who is from Cincinnati, Ohio, believes that organizations like Sweet Evening Breeze are required everywhere. As a steadfast volunteer, Max is doing their part and paying it forward.
“I definitely want to see them expanding,” Max said. “I want to see them having the funds to open more facilities and get more young people off the streets. I’d like to see them get the funds to do everything that they want to do and more.”
As the LGBTQ+ community expands, the number of resources made available to them grows.
Civitas serves the same purpose as Sweet Evening Breeze, but in a different realm. They serve as an advocate for LGBTQ+ people employed in the corporate community throughout the Ohio River Valley comprised of Kentucky, Southern Indiana and Southwestern Ohio. Civitas aims to improve the economic prospects for LGBTQ+ people, businesses and allies through networking and education as well.
At 1244 S. Third St., you will find Civitas, a local Chamber of Commerce affiliate chapter. To join, you must also be a member of the other organization.
In addition to running Civitas in the capacity as vice president, Drew Shryock is the owner of Whiskey Row Walking Tours in Louisville (W. Main St.). Civitas enables the concept of strength in numbers, according to Shryock.
“To have a voice, for us to have a seat at the table when it comes to being able to bid on contracts or help advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ+ business community,” Shryock said. “Making sure that that businesses in the area are doing their best to make sure that they are diversifying and offering what they can to our community from a business perspective.”
Erica Fields, the president of the board of directors at Civitas, believes that diversity and promoting one’s business is key. However, other obstacles can interfere with that happening.
“I think the biggest challenge is, I don’t want to say overwhelmingly … especially in this region of the country in the south, the more religious, the more kind of Christian attitude towards everything,” Fields, 69, a transgender woman said.
All 44 members of Civitas and business owners now have options they didn’t have before regarding procurement contracts. For direction and counsel on either new or current contracts, they can seek the help of others. Despite its naysayers, Civitas has a history of receiving support from groups outside the LGBTQ+ community in other prominent fields.
“Everyone from the airlines to the hotels, Marriott, Hilton, all of them are big supporters of the NGLCC (National Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce,)” Fields said. “The banking industry, PNC, Wells Fargo, they’re all huge supporters of the NGLCC.”
Any uncertified, newly started business will be required to pay $100 for an annual membership fee. Civitas also charges a $250 certification fee for any business looking to become certified with the NGLCC.
JP Davis Partners, a consulting firm that specializes on creating fundraising for different organizations, is a certified LGBTQ+ business under Civitas.
“I’ve attended three national NGLCC conferences. I’m proud to be from Kentucky, networking in the national LGBTQIA+ business networks and conversations,” JP Davis said. “It’s a calculated, thoughtful, curated agenda and I always walk away with new, strong, connections. “
Local filmmaker Zach Meiners of Chronicle Cinema, recently completed a feature documentary on conversion therapy is also a part of the Civitas Family.
“Through both the corporate matchmaking sessions and morning walk and talks, we were able to connect with not only many new fellow LGBTQ+ business owners but also many new potential corporate clients from all around the country,” Meiners said.
Shryock described Louisville as a “progressive city” and stressed the importance that organizations like Civitas are needed. Outside of functioning like a union, Civitas can assist in providing answers to questions pertaining to financing and which bank offers the best lending possibilities. According to Shryock, there are Civita’s members that work as real estate agents and can assist an entrepreneur looking to buy or rent a space.
Shryock is highly enthusiastic about the future of Civitas and the prospective opportunities that may arise.
“For our city, but also for the state of Kentucky as well, Civitas provides another financial aid and avenue for a historically disadvantaged community, the LGBTQ+ community, a discriminated against community,” Shryock said. “It offers a unique opportunity, not only for a business to financially benefit itself but also to make friendships and connect with other LGBTQ+ businesses throughout the state of Kentucky. … I would like to see Civitas be the leading LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce in Kentucky.” •