BY AJ TRAGER
MUSKEGON – The first ever LGBT community center is opening up in Muskegon County, serving Muskegon and surrounding areas.
The LGBT Support Services Center will have a grand opening from 1-3 p.m. and again from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 23 to celebrate the first ever LGBT center in the Muskegon area, offering resources, support, social opportunities, education and referrals to people from all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.
Rev. Robert Teszlewicz, executive director of the center, began the Muskegon LGBT Support Services Center project late last year directly following the suicide of trans youth Leelah Alcorn. He has a degree in social work and has been professionally and socially involved in helping the LGBT community for most of his life.
“I’ve been involved with the community for decades, and I did a lot of social work for years,” Teszlewicz said. “I’ve always had lots of LGBT clients, too. I’ve been on Facebook a lot and had more and more people contact me about opening the center. I read this article about Leelah Alcorn; I thought, ‘Oh hell no.’ That was what motivated me to say it is time to jump back into the saddle.”
Teszlewicz has spent the last 40 years as a social worker, a high school counselor, a high school teacher, foster parent and as a reverend of the Catholic Apostolic Church. He has a long history of offering up his home to the LGBT community. Teszlewicz spent much of his time in the late 1980s housing foster care children who were HIV affected and has recently sold his home to fund the LGBT Support Services Center.
“I’ve spoken to so many kids around the country and around the world about the struggles that the trans community faces, and I feel so strongly towards being an advocate,” Teszelwicz said.
The center will host a variety of services for the Muskegon area including drop in and hang out areas for both LGBT youth and young adults and is currently working on a directory of services in the area. Teszlewicz would also like to open dialogue with Muskegon schools and have more GSAs present for students.
The center will be home to a host of programs and services including: support groups, life planning, AA/NA groups, mental health referrals, anti-bullying, family intervention services and help in the coming out process. The space will also be available for social gatherings.
LGBT Support Services will be entirely volunteer driven. Around seven volunteers came forth and helped Teszlewicz remodel the space with one volunteer willing to write grants for the center.
“I’ve done everything: holding the hand of a kid dying of AIDS, and I’ve seen kids blossom. It’s all good. The community backlash is going to get worse between now and the 2016 elections. There isn’t any shortage of ignorance around,” Teszelwicz said.
The LGBT Support Services Center is located at 2542 Peck St. in Muskegon Heights. Visit the website at http://www.lgbtsupportservices.org. Free parking will be available in the lot behind the facility or on the street.