Betty Jacobs is a friend. She is someone a greatly admire, so much a better human being than I could ever hope to be. She is a lifelong Lake County resident and a mother of six. She has spent most of her career working and volunteering with nonprofit organizations. It is through that, that she became aware of the gaps in support and services for the Lake County LGBTQ community. Betty earned her Associates of Human Services through Lakeland Community College. She is currently in her last semester of her Bachelors of Social Work through Youngstown State University.
Betty is the National PFLAG Great Lakes Regional Director. She is also a PLFAG-Cleveland board member. She developed and facilitates PFLAG Cleveland satellite meetings, which are held at the LGBTQ+ Allies Lake County offices. She has also founded and co-facilitates, TransSupport Lake County, Youth Pride, LGBTQ REcovery, Gaymers, LGBTQ Book Club, LGBTQ Movie Club. Betty has presented over 40 diversity training (safe space) seminars/webinars for organizations, agencies, and businesses.
Betty has made it her mission to continue advocating for the LGBTQ community by developing and facilitating, the first and only LGBTQ Practicum for leaders in Lake County. She has been working with the leaders of Lake County on the disparities and discrimination that LGBTQ individuals face in Lake County. She has brought together more than 20 health and human service providers both for children and adults, drug addiction agencies, sheriff’s departments, churches, and community members to work on how to make Lake County more LGBTQ inclusive and welcoming.
Betty has a passion for advocating and empowering the most marginalized groups, in particular, LGBTQ individuals.
From the web site: LGBTQ+ Allies Lake County is a grassroots response, to an overwhelming need for resources in every facet of the LGBTQ+ community. Our passion and drive to close this gap is immeasurable. We see the people in our community falling behind because of drugs, violence, and suicide. LGBTQ+ Allies Lake County answers the need for access to support, services, ally education, and resources. Clear visibility and access to those services will make all the difference for people who have been living their lives in secrecy.
LGBTQ+ Allies Lake County is comprised of members of the LGTQ community and allies who live and work in Lake County. Many of our staff and volunteers risk a lot when they speak up and live “out” loud. They have children who may be ridiculed, family members who take umbrage with their choice to speak up. Nevertheless, they continue to make changes in Lake County.
Give me the Readers Digest version of your backstory. What brought you to the place where you felt the need to start this wonderful organization?
“What brought me to the place to start the organization is the lack of support and services in Lake County. January 2019 I was looking for an internship to complete my social work degree. I knew I wanted to work with the LGBTQ community. So, as I was reaching out to the different mental health and addiction agencies in my area, I was finding that none of them provided any LGBTQ services, programming, or gay-affirming care. I was stunned, I just assumed that social service agencies would be the place that would be safe for EVERYONE! I found out very quickly that depends on where you go.
Finding this out concerned me greatly. It was then that I began looking for ways that I could help. I asked multiple leaders of agencies, leaders of Lake County, and community members for help. Everyone told me that they were aware that there was a problem, but that LGBTQ issues are a hot topic in Lake Counties conservative area and they did not want to touch it. So, I knew it was time for me to take a stand and do what I knew had to be done. March 2019, I applied for my 501(c)3 and bought the domain name to start our website. Here we are two and a half years later, and there are still many days that I feel like I am on an island alone. But I also know I have touched many people who may not have otherwise had anyone. I am very proud of this organization and what it has become.”
I know this has been a struggle. Can you share with our readers some of that?
“Building this organization has been a struggle. My world was very small before I started the organization. I had a handful of people who knew I was a lesbian, and that was the way my partner and I thought we would always be. But today it is not uncommon for me to be out shopping and get recognized. Some of those encounters have been positive and some have been negative. I will admit, my heart does race if someone starts talking to me and my children are with me. Those are the moments that I fear for them. They did not ask to have their lives be made public, or deal with the hatred that has been thrown our way.
This past November was probably one of the scariest days of my life. I was woken up at 2:00am by what sounded like a machine gun right outside my bedroom window. I sat straight up, and my 12-year-old daughter ran through my bedroom door and was screaming “what was that”. Just then another round went off. I screamed at her to get down and I crawled over to the phone to call 911. They sent an officer out and found no one, but they did find the shells from the gun on the road. They verified it was an AK47. Something I need to make clear is, I live in a very very rural area. The only thing I have around me are cornfields. So, I know this was no accident or coincidence. Do I know if it was meant for me, I do not. But I do know that I have had nasty emails, voicemails, and phone calls, telling me I am not wanted and that I am a pedophile because I have children with my partner who is a female. I made a huge commitment and a decision two and a half years ago to the LGBTQ community of Lake County, I will not turn back.”
You must be very proud of what you and the organization has accomplished. I can imagine you can see some much more that needs to be done. What accomplishments are you the proudest of?
“I am very proud of the organization. I have seen a community that was afraid, now come together. I have seen youth who felt alone and misunderstood, now flourish and stand proud of who they are. The organization has helped build a community where there was once nothing. We have people from toddlers of same sex couples, to a lesbian who just came out at the age of 83. These people had no one three years ago, and now they have community.”
Where do we need to go, understanding that the world we live in is no longer grey, everything is simply black and white? Compromise no longer exists and everything is so polarized.
“I think it is impossible to live in a world that is black and white. Human beings are complex and diverse, no two are alike. How could you not live in a grey world with that being what surrounds you. Where do we go from here, that’s a hard question. I think the answer would be unique to each person. My answer would be to build hope. Hope has kept many people alive and thriving for centuries. Not just LGBTQ people, but many marginalized and mistreated people. They hoped for a something better, they believed that this life had more meaning. That hate and ignorance would not conquer all. I know what I’m saying sounds all butterflies and rainbows. But having hope can feel impossible to some people. I have sat on the phone with LGBTQ people who had no hope, who called me because I was their last hope.”
A true difference maker!
Check out the entire Difference Makers series!