Rainbow Cafe helps LGBTQ teens find solace in Bergen County

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The Rainbow Café logo
The Rainbow Café

The Café may be the largest LGBTQ youth group in the state of New Jersey

The Rainbow Café meets monthly in the social hall of a church in Cresskill, which for some teens, sounds like the last place for any LGBTQ organization to be in. But in the social hall of the Cresskill Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, on certain nights, the doors are opened for events that are tailor-made to provide a safe environment to express oneself. 

The groups aim is to help teens find community. From month to month there are clothing swaps and sensory-friendly dances with all events highlighting creativity. Much like any organization, it has karaoke. Ping pong tables. Sometimes therapy dogs come to visit, and usually, it’s popular.

Jess Horan was introduced to The Rainbow Café after going through a bias incident with intense social media outrage. Horan is a mother of two and identifies as a lesbian; she and her family were subject to inappropriate comments by several colleagues. 

“I only joined maybe a year and a half ago. And shortly after that, they were like, ‘We’d love you to be an advisor.’ And it really has grown to be a space where all different types of kids can come. We have a space that’s like low sensory where there’s not a lot of noise. We have an art spot. So really, it’s almost like Rainbow Cafe found me as well as I found them.” said Horan.

Through contacts at the Bergen County LGBTQ Alliance, Horan found her way to the Café. Her work as an advisor soon grew, as she is one of the faculty advisors for a student group called Gender and Sexualities at the school she works in.

Horan says the group believes the Café may be the largest LGBTQ youth group in the state. It is one of the few physical locations for sure. It’s one of the even fewer options tailor-made for teens that identify as gay or trans. Recently Horan spoke at an organization event and spoke about the importance of advocacy as well as spirituality. 

The speech was called “Just Jess.”

“And why is it that these people don’t feel like in our congregation also said that there’s a lot of things they don’t know when it comes to LGBTQ people, and they wanted to open the door? So I said, you know, that would be, you know, that’s a personal passion of mine to try to figure out how to merge spirituality and religion with LGBTQ people because it’s probably one of the biggest weapons people use to shame and manipulate. So, I felt like it was an honor that they asked me to go speak,” said Horan.

Spirituality was something that also tied into one of the other main advocates for the Café, Patricia Flynn. She is the social media advisor for the Café. Flynn was introduced to the organization after transferring churches just after her cousin came out. 

“So I started going to the UCC church in Cresskill,” said Flynn. “The United Church of Christ is a Christian denomination. And the denomination itself is what they call open and affirming, meaning that we welcome everybody. It more or less refers to the LGBTQ community. But it also refers to a diverse group of people. Any marginalized people, the homeless, we welcome everybody, but each individual church is free to make that decision, whether or not they wish to become open and affirming.”

Reverend Doctor David Bocock started the group 14 years ago. He is a gay man from the Midwest and was the pastor of the Cresskill Church back in 2009. “He saw a need because there was a member of the congregation, a young boy who was gay, and he was talking to the pastor, and he said, “How come there are no support groups and no social groups for people like me?” said Flynn. The youngster is now in his thirties and is no longer in the area. He was one of the first to join the group and one of the many adults who grew up with the program.

The group is now nearing 15 years old and holds meetings every third Friday of the month. More information can be found on their Facebook.