The Pride in Friendship: How to Build Queer Community

Ari Cofer Fact Checked
A photo of three people at a Pride parade
© Mattia / Stocksy United

Pride Month is a joyful time to celebrate the history of your local LGBTQIA+ community, to learn the stories of those who’ve advocated for change and to spend time connecting with the people who understand you best. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for queer people to find community, especially if you live in an area that might not be welcoming or if your family doesn’t accept your identity. And being isolated can take a serious toll on your mental health. 

How does community help queer mental health? 

Sure, people everywhere, not just the LGBTQIA+ community, need solid friendships and connections. Social connectedness can reduce feelings of depression, stress and anxiety and even help with overall physical health. 

“All of us as humans need community,” says Dr. Corinne Heinen, the physician lead at the UW Transgender & Non-binary Health Program and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. “The disruption caused by the pandemic has shown how important it is.”  

Strong support systems are especially vital for LGBTQIA+ adults, who face higher rates of mental health conditions, stress and suicide compared to their non-LGBTQIA+ counterparts. While friendship and community alone aren’t enough to stop the onset of mental health conditions, having the support of others can not only widen your net to help guide you toward the resources you might need, but can also provide support from people who understand the difficulties of having a marginalized identity and who can cheer you on during hard times.  

Of course, everyone needs different kinds of support depending on what they’re going through. One person might need extra therapeutic resources or mentorship to support them through their gender transition, whereas someone else might just need a good pal who can chat with them through an anxious moment (like the very specific nervous sweats that come before the first time you ask someone on a date). 

The challenges of finding queer community 

It takes a great deal of vulnerability to find other people who identify like you. “If you misjudge, it could be devastating,” says Heinen. 

Not only is there a risk of having your sexual or gender identity revealed to others without your consent, aka being outed, but Heinen emphasizes that it’s, unfortunately, a very real possibility that you could be hurt by loved ones or even kicked out of your family. These consequences themselves can impact your mental state, and often contribute to the higher rates of depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and suicidal ideation within these communities.  

Despite these risks, it’s still crucial to find your people. 

“When you’re in a marginalized group, you can’t always find these connections in everyday life,” says Heinen. “And especially if you don’t fit into the assumptions of society, it’s even more important that people can connect with folks with whom they have an affinity,” says Heinen. “You want to find people who understand that you are just another human, and your identity isn’t looked at negatively by others.”

It’s a varied individual experience, but queer people need a space to feel safe expressing their identity — especially in a society where most people are assumed to be straight and cisgender (aka compulsory heteronormativity). “If you’re not one of those things, the question becomes: How do you find people who are more like you?” asks Heinen. 

How to find queer support and community (or your next Pride buddy) 

So, you’re looking to find community — where do you start? Heinen has a few suggestions. 

Local queer community for adults  

Despite the challenges that come with the Seattle freeze, there are plenty of ways to find local queer friendships in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. If you’re looking for emotional support, a good first step would be to do a Google search for support groups in the area. You can narrow your search to find the type of community you’re seeking, for example, you can look for an all-trans and peer facilitated support group, or a peer support group for lesbians.  

If you’re looking for friendship or social events, you can search (or look on social media) for local queer events, recreational groups (gay dodgeball, anyone?), book clubs, craft groups and more. 

If you’re a parent to a queer teen or young adult 

If your child expresses the need for additional support as they navigate their gender and sexuality, Heinen suggests encouraging your teen or young adult to seek out safe spaces in their high school or college. Most schools have student-led clubs that provide a space for LGBTQIA+ students to connect and socialize.  

“I appreciate how hard it is for youth right now,” says Heinen. “These days, they’re forced to look at their gender and sexual identity and are expected to show that to people. It’s different than older people, who kept their identities hidden away, and dealt with it when they were older.” 

Because times have changed, Heinen says it can be difficult to remember that there are real risks for young people to come out if the culture around them isn’t friendly or accepting. “It’s so sad to say that, but it’s gotten worse because people are expressing themselves more freely,” she says. 

If your kid is having difficulty finding a safe space in their school, check your local community for support groups for both parents, their kids or both.  

How to deepen existing connections 

If you already have a solid group of queer friends and are looking to deepen those connections, Heinen says to dedicate a day or two to celebrate the queerness within your own friend group. This could look like going to a drag show together, crying together over your favorite queer rom-com — anything that helps you feel seen as the person you are, and helps you stay connected to those who know how to best love and support you. And what’s a better mental health boost than having a mini-Pride with your friends? 

Community for those who can’t come out 

If you live in an area where it’s unsafe to be out as your true identity, or if you aren’t in a situation in which you can comfortably be out around your family, Heinen suggests looking online for community. This could look like virtual queer book clubs, support groups, game nights and more. 

“It’s tremendously powerful for people to have online connections, which is why there are spaces for people to go online to learn about other people’s experience,” she says. “People say things like, ‘Wow, I grew up in a community that didn’t accept me, and I didn’t know there was anyone like me. Then I discovered that I’m not alone.’”  

These online spaces give people space to be themselves. “It’s a good place for a lot of gender diverse people, especially,” says Heinen. “They can talk to others in a safe way outside of their immediate circle to connect with people and learn about their own selves.” 

Healing in feeling seen 

Ultimately, there are many reasons to celebrate your identity in June — and every other month — with the help of your community. Good friends can support your mental health and remind you that you are not, and never will be, alone.