In July ARC of Mercer County launched a LGBT community organization for people with special needs. The club, the Special Needs Alliance for Pride (SNAP), may be the first organization of its kind that deals with all the special needs of participants, not just in New Jersey but in the country.
SNAP was introduced as part of National Gay Pride Month in June at ARC Mercer County. Its mission is to support integration of people with special needs people who identify as LGBT into the broader LGBT community. Organizers believe this prevents their isolation. Historically, these are people who are greatly underserved.
Organizations such as LGBT National Hotline, Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT Center in New York City could not identify any existing group dedicated to LGBT people with special needs as fully as SNAP. Although The Rainbow Support Group in New Haven, Conn. provided some services, it was somewhat limited when it was founded in 2002. ARC will be exploring funding opportunities to expand its the work through organizations which provides grants to further LGBT rights, social justice and other issues.
As a provider of services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the organization saw the need for SNAP on a recent trip. “During Arc Mercer’s annual roller coaster park trip, for people with special needs at Cedar Point, Ohio, I spent time with Ray, who was struggling with communicating his sexuality,” Executive Director Steven Cook said. “Clearly it was hard for him, doubly so as someone with special needs. There was no real place for him to turn. It was an Aha moment for me, an epiphany. I remembered how hard it was for me to tell my parents I was gay years ago. The need for a support organization for LGBTQ people with special needs crystallized in that moment.”
Ray Truitt, the young man whose challenges as a gay person with special needs served as an inspiration to Cook said he is overjoyed to be part of the group. “I know first-hand how hard it can be. As a member of SNAP, I am in a position to be able to be a help to others, to provide that kind of support. [Support] I could have used.”
New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15), the first openly gay member of the New Jersey Legislature and a member of the Arc Mercer Board of Directors, understands what SNAP can provide to many individuals. Being the “first” openly gay member of the New Jersey Legislature, I can appreciate having no peers to call on for support and advice. The fact that Arc Mercer saw this vacuum, this need, and did something about it is remarkable. It is so rewarding to be on the board of an organization that steps in to creatively respond to such a void. I am sure thousands of LGBTQ people with special needs will benefit from this initiative for years to come.”
SNAP will hold its next event 5:30-7:30pm August 24 at Trenton Social, 449 S. Broad St., Trenton, NJ For more information, visit arcmercer.org/special-needs-alliance-pride-snap.