District 202 has been in the business of providing a safe place for GLBT-identified youth and their allies for the past 16 years. The organization prides itself on the ability to be a free and open space—a sanctuary for youth who might otherwise have nowhere else to go. District 202 differs from its counterparts in that it is not an aid agency, but rather a positive gathering space. While it has the ability to provide help in any situation, its primary concern is fostering an encouraging environment for gay youth and their friends.
“One thing that happens here that doesn’t happen anywhere else is that District 202 is a place for everybody,” Interim Executive Director Alex Nelson says. “We have kids that are poor, kids that are wealthy, people of color, and immigrants.”
District 202 is a meeting place for understanding. It truly is one of the most welcoming places in the Cities. In the spirit of equality, the space is open to anyone 21 and under who seeks support from, with, and for the community.
“We have a lot of youth that aren’t GLBT-identified or allied that come to 202 because there is nowhere else to go where they won’t be hassled by case workers,” Nelson mentions.
According to Nelson, many of these youth eventually come to respect the GLBT community, and, in turn, learn to have a greater appreciation of it. They become allies solely through their experience at the center.
Presently, District 202 is considering a complete revamp of programming to realign itself with the needs of the community, as youth, thankfully, are becoming increasingly accepted among their peers. Yet the organization is still quite important for the future.
Nelson stresses, “The fact that this space exists is hugely powerful. Sometimes, it’s difficult to quantify just how successful the agency is. Part of the reason has to do with the necessary amount of anonymity the youth enjoy.”
District 202 has been, and continues to be, a place of solace where youth who feel like they have no one to talk to, either at home or school, can be comfortable being themselves without fear of persecution. Its true success is in fostering trust, not just among youth, but also throughout the community.
The center acts as a kind of buffer. It blocks prejudice from the outside world, while at the same time providing a safe gateway to other organizations that promise the same understanding, advocacy, and kindness.
District 202 gives youth the means to empower themselves; to be proud of who they are; and, ultimately, to go out into the community, and serve as both ambassadors of, and allies for, the entire world.
1601 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.