Laura Janney said her son, Matt, felt isolated amongst his peers growing up because he was gay. She would drive her son to Indianapolis for Indiana Youth Group, where he could find people like him and make friends.
“We saw that in him creating his tribe in Indy, it filled us with self-confidence,” Janney said. “So, we decided to start something here.”
For 10 years, Janney has worked as the executive director and founder of Muncie OUTreach — Delaware County’s only LGBTQ youth group. According to its website, “Muncie OUTreach’s mission is to provide an accepting environment to enhance the personal growth of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in the Delaware County area.”
Janney said OUTreach is a volunteer-run organization, and a lot of her job includes seeking donations, organizing volunteers and looking for ways to grow the youth group. This year, she said the organization has two goals: hire a new executive director and rent or purchase a standalone building.
With the new building, Janney wants to create a sober safe space for LGBTQ community members. Sober safe spaces are LGBTQ hangouts outside of bars and nightclubs, so youth can be more involved.
“That’s something I feel really strongly about,” she said. “I would just like to create a space where it doesn’t matter your age … People can come in, work on their laptop, hang out — whatever.”
While these are the organization’s goals for the year, Janney said the youth group still struggles with finances, which she believes is a common problem with every nonprofit. However, she said the COVID-19 pandemic made that problem, along with getting Muncie-area youth involved, more difficult.
“I think some of our kids got comfortable staying at home,” Janney said. “For two years, we didn’t do any events. We just had meetings. … We had a Pride prom, and it was our first event after two years, and it was just crazy. We had 82 kids show up.”
Janney said it “was crazy” to see the confidence kids had at the event because she said the kids who usually attend OUTreach aren’t comfortable being who they are.
“We usually see kids who are bullied or not accepted at home and have social anxiety,” she said. “They’re not the kids who are highly confident, but the confident kids don’t need us. They don’t need the support that the other kids do.”
Since the Pride prom was a success, OUTreach is planning a monthly social event to introduce kids who struggle with confidence to each other. Janney said the events so far have had about 40-60 kids, and the youth group is planning an LGBTQ family skate at the end of September and a Halloween dance in October.
On Sept. 3, OUTreach hosted Muncie Pride downtown with live music, drag queens, vendors and kids games. Janney said she hoped this event would also get more youth involved and teach the community more about OUTreach.
The local youth group also has a podcast called the OUTcast, which features local youth, volunteers and guests who discuss topics pertaining to the LGBTQ community and intersectionality. Ryan Mills is a volunteer for OUTreach and is a producer for the podcast.
Mills is a host, along with Hunter Greenleaf, Jordan Murphy and Skylar Anderson, who are all youth involved with the organization.
“In 2016, I was looking for an organization where I could donate my time and be of some use to the community here in Muncie,” Mills said. “My friend introduced me to OUTreach, and I just fell in love with it.”
While Mills is the volunteer working on the podcast, the idea came from Murphy.
“I was washing dishes one day at work, and I was bored, so I wanted something to listen to,” Murphy said. “I had the idea of doing a podcast, and this podcast means a lot to me, it’s like my child. … It’s been really great to meet all these wonderful people, and honestly, it’s what I look forward to every Saturday we meet.”
Murphy said they wanted to give a platform to Anderson, Greenleaf and Murphy. Although their favorite part of OUTreach is the podcast, they also said they enjoy the social aspect of the group.
“Outside of this group, I’m kind of introverted,” they said. “This is the only time I get to be more myself without being judged.”
Greenleaf also enjoys the social aspect of the organization, even though she felt like she didn’t need it at first.
“I realized how [much] better it was to see people that were like me,” she said. “It’s hard to feel isolated when you’re around people who are like you.”
Greenleaf said she hopes more kids get involved with the youth group in the future and feel comfortable coming out to their friends and family.
“I hope it breaks the cycle of trauma for closeted kids,” she said. “Muncie OUTreach feels like a safe space for queer people, which is nice to see.”