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Safe space: Transgender man opens new center for LGBT youth in Rock Island

A transgender man opens a new, needed space for LGBT youth in Rock Island. “There was nothing here available to them,” he said.

ROCK ISLAND, Illinois -- Chase Norris was busy on Saturday, blowing up ballons and moving furniture at Clock, Inc, a community center for LGBT youth in Rock Island. Its grand opening would  be on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

Norris hand-selected every detail, from the inspirational quotes he had printed out, ready to be shared with members of the youth groups dropping in at the center, to the color of the frames on the wall of his counseling office.

He said he saw need for this kind of space when when he started counseling LGBT youth in Rock Island a few years ago. LGBT+ refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, with the "+" denoting additional groups as they are added to this community, such as members of the pansexual community.

"I started the first LGBT adult and youth group at [WIU's] mental health facility and worked with five to six youth. I asked them if you could have any resource, what would  you want? They all said they wanted a center," he told News 8. "There was nothing here available to them and they needed somewhere to go where they could meet their peers and that wasn’t waiting until they were 21 so they could go to the bar."

Norris identifies as female to male transgender, but growing up in Pekin, Illinois, "LGBT topics weren't talked about," he said. "I didn't know what that term was or that it existed."

But he knew from a young age that he was different. Born as Chelsea Norris, "I knew at age six that something didn’t fit, something wasn't right," he said.

It took 22 years and a counselor who understood.

"She really challenged me to process my identity. Without her, I don’t think I’d be here and I’d be alive."

He eventually learned through a friend about female to male transition and soon after made an appointment to start testosterone treatment. That was five years ago.

Now he’s the one providing counseling at Clock, Inc. with the supervision of a licensed clinical, professional counselor.

Norris said his life would have been different if a place like Clock, Inc had existed  when he was a youth. With this space, "if I could be that for one person, I've succeeded," he said.

The center provides counseling for families, individuals, couples; drop-in hours for youth and adults; and a number of youth groups that meet regularly, as well as allies groups. Norris said this space wasn't just for LGBT youth, but for anyone to engage, process and figure themselves out in a safe environment.

And  if there was a need for a service that was not already offered, "It's my job to make that happen," he said.