Being a queer teenager in Texoma, a region that consists of Northern Texas and Southern Oklahoma, was an isolating experience. In the eyes of the majority of Texoma residents, homophobia was just a normal cultural value and anybody who was open about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community was ostracized. After leaving such a toxic environment, I never expected that I would be able to return and find support and community.
However, with my summer internship at The Opal Center, support and community are exactly what I have found.
The Opal Center is an organization I never expected would exist in Wichita Falls. It provides much-needed resources to the LGBTQ+ community in Texoma, currently offering free counseling sessions and biweekly Trans/Nonbinary and LGBQ support groups. Upon learning that this organization existed in an area where it was so desperately needed, I knew I needed to do what I could to support them.
As an intern at an organization that is not even a year old, my responsibilities have been varied and in no short supply. I have done everything from designing brochures to searching for grants to tabling at a fundraising event to things as mundane as making copies of keys. So much of what is important to The Opal Center at this stage is simply doing everything I can to make sure it stays running, both mechanically and financially.
In addition to day-to-day maintenance and fundraising for The Opal Center, a major component of my internship has been outreach, and one of the most interesting forms of outreach we are working on is Out Loud Magazine. Out Loud Magazine is a LGBTQ+ magazine with a special focus on writing and art by LGBTQ+ people that is set to publish its first issue later this month. The magazine is run by the director of The Opal Center, who hopes that its connection to the Center will provide publicity for the services we provide to Texoma’s LGBTQ+ community.
One of the articles I wrote for the magazine was about the Metropolitan Community Church in Wichita Falls, a church founded by and for members of the LGBTQ+ community. The process of writing this article has been the highlight of my internship experience so far. I visited the church for a Sunday morning service, nervous about previous experiences with homophobic churches in the area. However, the Metropolitan Community Church’s mission of “exuberant inclusivity” characterized the service, and the morning was a warm and welcoming experience. I felt safe and supported in a space used to practice a religion all too often manipulated for hateful purposes. I saw queer and transgender people able to openly worship a God that I had been told my entire life hated me, because now they were in a church that affirmed God’s unconditional love for them. Furthermore, I was amazed by the community I saw in the church, with queer and transgender people coming together and loving each other. This was all so far from the rejection and isolation I once thought was the only way LGBTQ+ individuals could live in Texoma. Maybe it was possible for LGBTQ+ people to find community and support in Texoma too.
I left the Metropolitan Community Church that day with a sense of hope. This region might not be universally supportive, but that doesn’t mean that LGBTQ+ people are totally alone. The mission of The Opal Center, to support queer and transgender people and to connect them with others who share their experiences, seemed more important and achievable to me than ever.
With this sense of hope and purpose in mind, there are several projects I am excited to work on going forward. Starting in late July, I will be running The Opal Center’s biweekly LGBQ support group. Additionally, in the next few weeks I will be meeting with one of The Opal Center’s board members to learn about grant writing and begin to secure more funding for the Opal Center. I am so excited to take on these new tasks, as well as anything else that may come my way, because in doing so I am able to help foster a stronger LGBTQ+ community in Texoma and work toward an atmosphere of inclusion and safety that I would have loved when I was younger.