Utah Pride Center opens Virtual Lobby

Local News
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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Coronavirus has created a “new normal” for many Utah residents. Most of us are stacked away in our homes, trying to get past a potential threat we can’t see, can’t detect, and sometimes don’t even know we have.

Isolation may be able to flatten the exposure curve, but it can take its toll on our mental health. The downsides? Depression, feelings of loneliness, anxiety and disconnect. In Utah, the stress was multiplied when a 5.7 magnitude earthquake rattled the state and most of us.

The Utah Pride Center is one of many local organizations that has adapted to support its local communities. Its idea was to reach and support clients through a Virtual Lobby.

The lobby is the brain child of the Utah Pride Center’s Brim Custen and Michael Bryant. They said they were kind of knocking around the idea of a virtual pathway, but COVID-19’s assault on the community made it expedient to do it now.

“We realized we needed to be present to serve our community in any way we possibly could,” Brim Custen said.

Under normal circumstances, the actual lobby of the Pride Center is a place where all kinds of people come to meet, sign in, chat, and support each other or be pointed towards people inside the building who can guide them to needed resources.

It’s not only a signpost, but a safe zone for many in the LGBTQIA+ community. And now, it’s temporarily closed. 

That’s where the Virtual Lobby kicks in and serves as a doorway to other community services.

We’ve switched over to supporting our individual key sessions by virtual means, we’ve started running groups, …like chatrooms, Google hangout sessions,” said Brim Custen.

Brandon Devlin, Brim Custen, and Joshua Bravo sat down via a teleconference interview to talk about the new way of doing things.

All three agree that closing down the doors left serious concerns about the welfare of some of the people who rely on the Pride Center for help.

Dollhouse view of Pride Center Lobby

Joshua Bravo, the center’s mental health director told ABC4 News, “When they have that place where they can be authentic, it can be very liberating. It’s very healing for them. When they lose it, when that is taken away from them, it goes back to that closet once again.”

He said he knew clients needed continued support during this time.

“We realized if we did not bring our clients, our participants and patrons in a virtual world, we’re going to be dealing with more trauma than we already deal with.”

Even though going virtual presents issues with one-on-one contact and physical cues, all three realize there are advantages to virtual meetings and telehealth calls.

Joshua recalled a story of a client who was working through many issues. Joshua couldn’t figure out where the client was calling from. All he could see was an amazing smile. When Joshua asked the client, he asked he was told “I am on the back of my horse.”

He said the experience taught him to look for new insights with the people he is working with to bring more sunshine into their life.

He was astonished the electric wall helped bring the new possibilities of treatment. But, that is only the beginning of a long list of surprises.

Brandon Devlin, a volunteer and counseling coordinator said, “In creating the lobby space, we also created the opportunity for so many of our community members to actually interact together.”

He cited an example of how someone had said they were alone, and the entire community showed up. 

Facing something as daunting as a potential existential threat and changing the way they worked with people has definitely opened everyone’s eyes to new possibilities- possibilities to help prevent people from sliding into the darkness that could ultimately end in permanent consequences.

Joshua said one of the most important things all of us can do in our isolation is self care. Get up, take a shower, do the little things you enjoy, he said. Simple habits of self-care can really help you.

Showers, getting dressed, brushing your teeth, and of course wash your hands! 

Brim said to remember that one of the goals of the Pride Center is to give space to people where they can come and be themselves. The Utah Pride Center lobby group is a digital version of that. They promise that after the COVID-19 threat is over the digital lobby is going to be there. The lobby helps provide that space to everyone in Utah.

Brandon said “We are still here, we still see you, we still love you, and we will be back, online, open stronger.”

If the Utah Pride Center’s Virtual Lobby can help you, request it via Facebook by typing in Utah Pride Center Lobby. You must agree to follow the rules.

The Utah Pride Center is now offering teletherapy with individual therapists if you are interested in individual services, contact therapy@utahpridecenter.org.

Virtual group therapy is also offered:

  • Trans Non-Binary Support Group
  • Women’s Support Group
  • Men’s Support Group
  • Survivor’s of Suicide Attempt Support Group
  • Bi+ Support Group
  • Queer Youth Support Group
  • Parent’s & Caregiver’s Support Group

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