Many people can relate to teenage angst, confusion and the longing to fit in to a community of support. For LGBTQ youth, however, the desire for a supportive community can be more than a matter of teenage angst – it can be a life and death matter. Thankfully, Central Indiana has a hero who recognized the need for positive communities for LGBTQ youth and took action to connect teens to the support they need.
Christopher T. Gonzalez was an activist who left a legacy for gay and lesbian youth in and around the Indianapolis area. He grew up in Griffon, Ind. during the 1960s and 1970s. Because of his sexual orientation, he felt a strong need to overachieve to gain approval. This led him to serve as student council president, participate in civic minded service and make volunteering a regular part of his life.
When Gonzalez moved to Indianapolis to attend Franklin College, he realized that he was not alone in his sexual orientation. He found a supportive network that included his partner Jeff Werner. Gonzalez, who had been afraid of coming out to his family due to their strong Hispanic and Catholic roots and his fear they would reject him, found the courage to tell his family and was met with unwavering support. He realized the tension and fear many LGBTQ youth feel could hold them back from finding supportive communities.
After college, Gonzalez volunteered as a counselor for the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard in Indianapolis. He kept getting phone calls from youth who were suicidal and homeless because of their gender identity or sexual orientation and felt a burning desire to address this community issue. Gonzalez founded Indiana Youth Group (IYG) in 1987 as a support network for LGBTQ youth in Central Indiana. He wanted all LGBTQ youth to find the positive community they need.
Sadly, Gonzalez succumbed to AIDS in 1994, but his legacy and heroism live on to this day. IYG continues to serve as a safe community for Indianapolis youth by growing to a new location at 3733 North Meridian, creating a partnership with Indy Pride and launching new programs like Thrive – the first evidence-based suicide prevention program in the world that is rapidly being shared with other LGBTQ centers throughout the U.S. and around the world. Thanks to the leadership and passion of Gonzalez, LGBTQ youth know they are valued and supported in the Indianapolis community and beyond.