LGBTQIA+ Alliance moves into new home

May 17—SHARON — The adjoining rooms on Shenango Valley Suites' lower level is packed so tightly that Pamela Ladner has a difficult time getting around.

There's a tray of lipstick against a table. A box of toothpaste near another table. Rainbow troll dolls.

"This was all in my house," Ladner said. "It's definitely a lot of work but I'm glad that we have a space that everyone can call theirs."

She was working this week to turn the offices at 87 Stambaugh Ave., in Sharon into a home for Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance, a one-stop shop for supporting people of all ages in the local LGBTQIA+ community. Ladner will hold an open house June 1.

As of this week, though, the two rooms are in flux. Ladner said the alliance will use the two rooms for support group meetings now being held across town at St. John's Episcopal Church in Sharon.

The alliance holds LGBTQIA+ support group meetings on the first Sunday of every month, with sessions for youth ages 12 to 17 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and people 18 and older from 3 to 4:30 p.m. In keeping with recommended mental health guidelines, people younger than 14 must have written consent from a parent or guardian to participate in the support group.

Parent support groups are held the third Sunday of every month from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Ultimately, Ladner said the Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance center will offer socialization opportunities, including outdoor drag shows. Ladner said she wants the center to be a gathering place, especially for young people to meet with friends they might contact only through social media.

"I think any thing we can do to pull them away from only socializing on the internet," she said.

Ladner said the church was supportive of the alliance and its mission, but the group needed its own space. Having that space will allow the alliance to offer quality-of-life provisions like hygiene supplies — shampoo and toothpaste, for example.

The center also will offer cosmetics and tutorials for makeup and use of devices for transgender people going through their journeys.

"If they don't have someone supportive to teach them ... many LGBTQIA+ people don't know how to do these things," Ladner said.

The center also will have a closet where people can find clothes and accessories to match their genders and personalities. Ladner said that is still a work in progress, and she's continuing to collect clothes.

One issue is shoes. Transgender women sometimes have a difficult and expensive time finding attractive women's shoes in their size. Shoes, clothing and purses can be an important factor to someone who is transitioning.

"You would not believe how excited a transgender woman is to receive her first handbag," Ladner said.

Items like handbags, cosmetics and clothes can do a lot to help LGBTQIA+ people match their outer appearance to their inner self, Ladner said. Toward that end, she has already decorated the center's walls with messages like a lighted "You're Beautiful" sign and other affirming words on the walls of both rooms.

One wall of the main room will be reserved for those who come into the center as an "Express Yourself" art wall. Ladner said she wants the rooms to be a safe space where LGBTQIA+ people, especially younger visitors can be themselves.

That can be difficult to find in a smaller community, she said.

"They won't have to drive to Pittsburgh. They won't have to drive to Cleveland."

The Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance center open house will be June 1 from 5 to 7 p.m.