QUEERSPACE: The Next Generation
Nicki Hangsleben and her team have brought Minnesotan LGBTQ+ youth “QUEERSPACE collective,” a mentorship program where queer youth can feel at home. They have built a network that connects mentees to mentors with the goal of imparting a sense of pride and belonging. Mentors open doors for mentees by identifying goals and encouraging their mentees’ aspirations during monthly “hangouts” and connecting them with vital resources. The organization has officially been serving the LGBTQ+ community for one year, and there is so much to celebrate.
Nicki is Executive Director & Founder of QUEERSPACE collective. This program truly takes a village; Nicki says, “QUEERSPACE collective creates space for LGBTQ+ youth to feel safe and empowered to be their true selves. That is our core mission and priority. We do this by surrounding queer and trans youth with a network of support, a “constellation of caring adults” who are there to provide guidance, insights, and most importantly, a space for them to feel heard and be whoever they want to be.” Many students have been stuck at home and have missed out on opportunities to socialize IRL since the pandemic. QUEERSPACE offers kids a chance to get out and take a breath of fresh air with people with whom they see themselves and their identities reflected.
The mission is not just to create an interpersonal community but also to establish a physical space where youth are accepted, safe, and belong. Nicki tells Lavender, “The majority of QUEERSPACE youth are trans and often don’t feel safe in their schools, communities, and sometimes even their homes. They are often being bullied at school, don’t feel safe using public bathrooms, and have challenges with access to appropriate healthcare. Our monthly group events provide a physical location where youth can show up as their authentic selves. We surround them with other LGBTQ+ youth and adults and lead them through activities to build connection and community.” Here, students find refuge from hostile environments and from a country where “Don’t say gay” bills are currently in the headlines. Here, they find an open and compassionate space where real belonging can begin, and for some youth, for the first time.
Nicki expresses that the “two-way exchange of ideas, information and experiences” between mentors and mentees are at the heart of the collective’s purpose. Nicki says the lived experiences of mentors “often bring personal insights and understanding of some of the challenges our LGBTQ+ youth are facing. Additionally, they are able to learn so much from the youth they are supporting!” She says the monthly hangouts are “warm” and “loving” and that those qualities are instrumental to the emotional well-being of everyone belonging to the mentorship program.
QUEERSPACE welcomes all LGBTQ+ adults to reach out and learn more about the mentorship program and volunteer opportunities. Seniors especially are encouraged to participate. Nicki says, “We often hear from our youth the desire to learn more about our LGBTQ+ history. We’d love to engage the senior members of our LGBTQ+ community to join us and share their stories.” The collective aims to create and share a space where intergenerational ideas and experiences are exchanged.
The collective is officially celebrating their first year of community building and outreach. The team will be hosting the “QUEERSPACE Birthday Bash” on April 27th at Lush Lounge & Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Guests are encouraged to arrive at 6 pm and will be welcomed by board member and Drag Queen Sasha Cassadine at 7 pm. MN’s own hip-hop artist Nur-D will be bringing the music, Drag Queen Rusey-Q will be performing, and attendees will get a chance to hear stories from QUEERSPACE mentors and youth. There will also be a silent auction that wraps up at 8:30 pm. Nicki notes, “ It will also be an opportunity to raise additional funds to reach more LGBTQ+ youth who are in need of support and mentorship.”
Support the QUEERSPACE collective by purchasing tickets for the upcoming “QUEERSPACE Birthday Bash” on April 27th. Supporters can purchase tickets and scope out the night’s events through their website. Proceeds from the event and silent raffle will directly benefit LGBTQ+ youth in Minnesota.
Find out more about mentorship opportunities and events open to the public on their website queerspacecollective.org