Prizm News / May 14, 2019 / By Katie Hobbins
Lake Country resident takes giant steps forward to create a space for the local LGBTQ community
By Katie Hobbins
Betty Jacobs can point to two reasons she decided to open LGBTQ+ Allies Lake County.
As a lifelong Lake County resident and lesbian, she explains that she sees a lack of support in the community. Looking past her own identity, she also cites a lack of support for children growing up with parents in same-sex relationships.
“I actually didn’t even come out until five years ago, and I’m 44. I didn’t feel safe,” says Jacobs. “[My daughter] believes that she’s the only kid around with a mom that’s in a same sex relationship and I know that’s not true. These families are here, these kids are here, and I need to find them.”
Growing up in the area, Jacobs asserts that the community still retains the conservative feel it had when she was growing up. Though only a few miles east of Cleveland, she declares that Lake County and its urban neighbor are worlds apart with regard to the embrace of the LGBTQ community.
“It’s so weird how open they are [in Cleveland] and how accepted,” says Jacobs. “I don’t know that world. We have to live our lives within the four walls of our home because that’s the only place we’re safe.”
It wasn’t until January when she started interning at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland that the idea of creating a safe space in Lake County felt possible. After conversations with the Center’s Executive Director Phyllis Harris, Jacobs decided that she wanted to take all that she loved about Cleveland’s Center and bring it home to Lake County.
“It really began from a thought,” Jacobs said. “I was there a week and I [saw] what they do and the support.”
Then, on April 6, the house of Billy Welker, owner of All Axs—a gay bar in downtown Willoughby—was burned in an act of arson and is currently being investigated as a hate crime. For Jacobs, her resolve to create an LGBT center was cemented.
“The LGBT community needs a safe place to go and [Welker] tried to provide that,” she said.
Since submitting paperwork the last week of April, Jacobs nonprofit status has been initially accepted. While she waits for the official green light, she is unable to open a physical center. But that’s not stopping her from rolling out what she says is one of her most important initiatives.
“The biggest part of our organization is going to be education and I’m going to go to anyone that will have me to do LGBT training,” she said. “A lot of people have negative thoughts because you’re afraid of what you don’t know, and then you won’t ask. Training feels like it will fill some of the gaps that keep people apart.”
As for the future, Jacobs is looking to partner with prominent members of the community and businesses within Lake County to help increase services. She also wants to help more firmly establish LGBT people within the Lake County footprint, which starts with greater exposure and education.
“My hope is that it becomes normalized to hear the word LGBT around Lake County,” says Jacobs. “I want to [make the center] a fixture within the county.”
Learn more about LGBTQ+ Allies Lake County by going to http://lgbtlakecounty.com/
Katie Hobbins is a freelance journalist with a concentration in LGBTQ, entertainment and investigative journalism. Follow her at Katie_Hobbins on Twitter and Wheremyfeetmayfall.com.