JOHNSTOWN - Local residents gathered at the Mental Health Association in Fulton & Montgomery Counties on Wednesday to see an LGBT art exhibit and open their minds.
With many people having a hard time opening up to their family and friends about being gay, bisexual or transgender, officials with the association said they thought it was necessary to hold the exhibit titled, "Love Makes a Family: Portraits of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People and Their Families" to share the subjects' stories and struggles.
Kathy Cromie, deputy director with the association, said the organization was able to host the event through a suicide-prevention grant specifically for the LGBT population. Many people can become depressed with the stress of deciding whether to come out or not or with the negative reaction they may receive from those close to them, she said.
From left, Janine Dykeman, Debbie Skivington, Veronica Parks and Jennifer Abrams view an exhibit Wednesday at the Mental Health Association in Fulton & Montgomery Counties in Johnstown.
The Leader-Herald/John Borgolini
"It's definitely an important topic, whether you're looking at the suicide prevention aspect of it or if you're looking at the LGBT aspect of it," Cromie said.
The concept of the exhibit is when someone is looking at a photograph, there's no indication a person is straight or gay. That's what grabbed the attention of officials at the association to this specific exhibit.
"That's why it was important for us to do this, because it doesn't matter whether you're gay, lesbian, transgender, black or white. People are people." Cromie said. "That includes people in the mental health community. People are people whether they have a mental illness or not."
The organization also is aiming to open a resource center for the LGBT community by Sept. 26 to offer assistance to people who are having a hard time, or have become depressed, due to their uncertainty of coming out to their loved ones. Officials at the resource center will discuss these problems with the individual and put them in touch with other members of the LGBT community.
Heidi Cobart, a pre-op transgender person, will run the resource center and knows what problems a person can experience. While living in Florida, Cobart was so torn by deciding what to do that it drove her to depression.
"If I didn't transition, at the rate I was going I would be dead because of the depression [it was causing me]," Cobart said. " ... It's OK to come out. I try to be a voice for the LGBT. It's really important to let people know to be themselves. I gave up a 24-year marriage to make this decision."
Deborah Skivington, deputy executive director of the Family Counseling Center, said this is an exhibit everyone should see, and Jennifer Abrams of the Sexual Assault Support Services for Fulton and Montgomery Counties, agreed.
"This is real, and it's happening," Abrams said. "People should know that these are people just like everyone else. They don't look different. They don't sound different."