Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.
A friendly neighborhood bar was not an option for then-college student Kerry Wiessmann. This was less because she identified as a lesbian and more because she failed to identify as much of a drinker.
Still, the problem remained: Where could an enterprising young person go to meet people? Nearly four decades later, Wiessmann is an established professional and a school counselor with Ferguson Township — who is still trying to work out the answer to that question.
The good news is that at least she has help.
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Wiessmann is the chairwoman of the Centre LGBTQA Support Network, an organization that was founded nearly a year and a half ago with the goal of fostering a sense of togetherness among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and its allies.
This really is a welcoming community.
Kerry Wiessmann , Centre LGBTQA Support Network Chairwoman
Backed by a six-member board of directors, the network sponsors social gatherings, support groups and scholarships all directed toward sending the message that State College welcomes newcomers with open arms, whatever their differences.
“This really is a welcoming community,” Wiessmann said.
One of the network’s first major events was a community fair that featured nearly 50 local businesses and organizations.
Tamar London, the group’s vice president, was impressed by just how many people turned out to show their support.
“It did appear that there were a lot of businesses and churches and a synagogue that were very affirming to the LGBT community,” London said.
Part of the network’s mission is to make sure that this is readily apparent to outsiders coming into State College for the first time.
After all, words like “acceptance” and “belonging” aren’t just good for tourism.
“It has such a direct impact on how people feel about themselves and how productive they are in the community,” Wiessmann said.
She believes that the world a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person experiences today is better than the one that she faced 37 years ago.
London, who is a raising a 14-year-old son who identifies as gay, agrees.
“He’s having a childhood that would have been unheard of 30 years ago, 40 years ago,” London said.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t still work to be done.
They’re seeing that it’s OK for them to be who they are.
London said that there weren’t many social events around town that were directed toward LGBT people and their allies.
The network continues to host regular social events such as drag bingo or open mic nights at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe, and London has enjoyed watching the burgeoning camaraderie among those in attendance.
“They’re seeing that it’s OK for them to be who they are,” London said.
The Centre LGBTQA Support Network has also grown to include three support groups: one for parents of LGBTQA children; one for people coming out later in life; and one for gender variant individuals.
The group, which recently achieved nonprofit status, will hold a major fundraiser on April 23 at the Lodge at Tussey Mountain.
Adult Prom is pretty much exactly what it sounds like only with more food and a cash bar. Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for students.
London and Wiessmann both acknowledged that the network’s ultimate goal is to go out of business — but there will always be a need for the occasional celebration or two.
“I think it would be really nice for State College to be known as an LGBT-friendly town,” London said.
IF YOU GO
What: Adult Prom: Centre LGBTQA Support Network Benefit
When: 7 p.m. April 23
Where: Lodge at Tussey Mountain, 341 Bear Meadows Road, Boalsburg
Info: www.facebook.com/centrelgbtqa, firstname.lastname@example.org