Creating Safer Spaces for LGBTQ Youth

How OutFront works to transform Minnesota communities for the better.

Kat Rohn
Kat Rohn (Courtesy Ben Hovland)

Northfield, like many cities on Pride weekend, was flooded by people enjoying the evening as a community. What struck Northfield native Kat Rohn was the overwhelming amount of young LGBTQ individuals exploring booths — and their own identities.

“To be able to go back to that space for me and to see young people there asking questions, picking up flags, stickers, buttons … all levels of community engagement,” Rohn recalls, “I can only imagine what it would look like for me to say, ‘This is a thing that is real and OK.’” 

Many states across the United States are enacting policies that limit LGBTQ rights, especially issues that affect youth, like changing their name and legal gender and sports participation for trans athletes. Mental health issues are also common among queer teenagers. This can be caused by an atmosphere of alienation that makes them feel differently than the status quo. 

Even though Minnesota is looked at as a leader on the forefront of LGBTQ issues, the state still lacks the resources to deal with the health crisis these teens are experiencing. In her new role as executive director of OutFront Minnesota, a nonprofit that works to support healthy spaces for queer teens, Rohn hopes to continues its work and create safe spaces for LGBTQ youth.

“By no means are we in a place of total security. We know that particularly at a local and community level that can look very different,” she said. 

Rohn has had many personal experiences with the isolation involved in being a queer teenager.

“I grew up in the community of Northfield and growing up there weren’t visible LGBTQ people,” she said. 

Rohn is working to validate today’s generation through OutFront’s collaboration with students. Despite rising visibility for queer people, there are still many issues facing teens.

OutFront group
OutFront can be spotted at community events throughout the Twin Cities as
a resource for LGBTQ people and allies. (Courtesy Gabi Rosenthal Photography)

One example took place in Hastings in 2021. While running for reelection, a member of the Hastings school board, whose daughter is transgender, was targeted by a Facebook group calling themselves “Concerned Parents of Hastings.” 

Though this story is all too familiar to the LGBTQ community, Rohn said the community’s reaction gave her hope.

“What I saw out of Hastings was a response. People came together and held a rally in support of trans youth in the community. They held conversations about it,” she said. “They’ve been really engaged around a lot of different topics.”

Reactions like that empower organizations like OutFront to expand their work. Rohn has been speaking to officials to pass legislation and involve themselves more in the fight for health equity.

“When we see multiple levels of engagement — not just showing up to an event, or flying a flag during Pride month, putting that stake in the ground of ‘this is what our community values are here for,’” she said. 

Through its work with queer teens, OutFront strives to create safe spaces and voices by giving many students the opportunity to “be vocal within school districts about making sure the districts themselves are being held accountable.”

OutFront has already helped many of these student-led groups make change in their own communities. They have encouraged a new generation of queer individuals to lead and fight for the rights they deserve. Through the fight for proper legislation to help teens deal with mental and physical health issues and pushes for social change, OutFront gives Minnesota a path to create safer spaces for all youth. 

As Rohn said, “These aren’t things we can just assume are going to be fine because of where we live. We need to have people gathering together talking about diversity and inclusion and what that really looks like.”

This story was written by ThreeSixty Journalism’s summer 2022 News Reporter Academy high school students. The Academy and its theme of holistic health equity were supported by Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota, which connected students with story topics and sources.