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KOIN - A gay pride parade in downtown Portland.The Springwater Studio overflows with warm, afternoon light. Easels prop up blank canvases. The studio is inviting — and empty.


Instructor Wendy Thompson hopes that the space, located in the Episcopal Parish of St. Luke the Physician in Gresham, will soon transform into an open studio for LGBT youth.

Starting in July, the studio’s doors will be open to youth ages 12-18 on the first Wednesday of every month as “Youth Out Arts,” a safe, creative space that offers workshops in poetry, painting, drawing, book arts, theatre and other art forms. There also will be snacks, and all the offerings are free of charge.

The ongoing workshops will continue for the next 12 months. Workshops are taught by trained artists, and will explore themes of culture and identity through the arts, with the goal of creating a published anthology of works by the youth. Thompson says the anthology publication date is set to coincide with next June’s Pride North West celebration, an annual parade and festival encouraging positivity and diversity of LGBT communities.

The studio was made possible by a grant from the Regional Arts Cultural Council. The grant was written by Thompson in partnership with East County PFLAG, an organization that provides education and peer support for LGBTQ people and families in Gresham and the east side.

Thompson has been an arts educator in Oregon and southwest Washington for 30 years. She learned that the grant for the studio was accepted in June, and moved quickly to get the studio off the ground. Since middle schools and high schools are out for the summer, Thompson is tasked with sharing the news of the studio by word of mouth.

At June’s Portland Pride Waterfront Festival and Parade, Thompson passed out fliers.

“The goal for me is that folks can experience healing and transformation, and get their voice out there. This is really a voice that has been silenced,” Thompson said.

Most LGBT students experience discrimination at school, according to a 2014 report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Many schools lack resources that LGBT students need, while hostile school climates negatively affect educational success and general well-being.

“It’s still scary for folks,” Thompson added. “A lot of kids who identify as LGBT may not have any kind of family support. They might be homeless. These kids don’t have a place to go, which is why this is really important. They’re not connected to a network or group, yet.”

Under the leadership of Eric Overby and Lurissa Sponsler-Overby, East Multnomah County PFLAG has reestablished its place and purpose in the community. The group meets the first Wednesday of the month, and provides support and education for LGBTQ individuals, friends and family.

Springwater Studio and East County PFLAG are both located at 120 S.W. Towle Ave. in Gresham. The Youth Out Arts Studio meets from 4:30-6:30 p.m., on Wednesdays. East County PFLAG meets from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesdays. Both are free.

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