Comfort Zone

January 2021 View more

Youth Outlook volunteers in Art of Inclusion’s “Naperville Together.”

Ahistoric number of LGBTQ+ members will be sworn into office all across our nation this month in the 117th U.S. Congress. When Delaware’s Sarah McBride was elected the first openly transgender state senator in the nation last November, she tweeted, “I hope tonight shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too.” That growing national sentiment is supported locally by a Naperville-based nonprofit, Youth Outlook.

As the first social service agency in Illinois solely dedicated to the support of LGBTQ+ youth, its mission is to celebrate, empower, advocate for, and provide services to meet their ever-evolving needs, along with those of their families, friends, and communities. The nonprofit offers centers for youth as well as parent support groups and community education programs.

“Our drop-in programs provide a safe space where kids can authentically be who they are without the pretense of anything else going on around them in society,” explains Marie Grover, who serves on Youth Outlook’s board of directors. “While some kids are out and proud, others don’t come from supportive families—and look to Youth Outlook for that support,” she says. “Kids often tell us that we have saved their lives.”

One anonymous participant explains: “I love that Youth Outlook has given me a space to meet new people and just be me and know I won’t be judged.” Another shares that Youth Outlook provides “another layer of acceptance for myself that I didn’t know was there.”

“Our support groups are sometimes deep conversations, sometimes art projects, and sometimes they are fun and enlightening. But at the end of the day, somebody can walk into group and be their authentic self, whether or not they are able to be their authentic self in the world. That opportunity gives them more confidence to realize what they are feeling is normal and that others are feeling the same way,” Grover points out. “People can be themselves and that’s probably the biggest thing that Youth Outlook does.”

Youth Outlook drop-in centers are located in Naperville, Elmhurst, Palatine, Elgin, DeKalb, Ottawa, and Sterling. During the pandemic, however, programs are meeting online. Its largest and fastest-growing group is called Transcend, which supports trans and nonbinary youth. All of its groups welcome youth ages 12 to 20.

“We have seen kids come out younger and younger. Our groups now support middle school as well as high school kids. We are even getting requests for elementary school programming,” explains Grover. The organization also connects professionals and educators with speakers and offers information on creating inclusive environments and trends in working with LGBTQ+ youth. A complete list of services, events and resource links can be found at

Photo courtesy Youth Outlook