By Amanda Hancock
During her days of working with young people in Colorado Springs, Noelle Strait sometimes thinks of one kid specifically: her younger self.
As a Colorado Springs native, Strait attended a charter school that prepared her “greatly academically,” she says. Emotionally, though, her hometown didn’t always offer the same experience.
“The coming out process was very terrifying,” says Strait, who identifies as pansexual and uses she/they pronouns. “I didn’t feel like I had those safe spaces.”
That’s part of what lead Strait to her current role as School Advocate with Inside Out Youth Services, a local nonprofit serving teens and young adults in the LGBTQ+ community since 1990.
Since joining the nonprofit in January 2022, Strait has formed relationships with teachers, administrators and board members from Colorado Springs schools and provided resources on best practices to those who seek to better support queer young people. She also serves as the facilitator for the Pikes Peak Safe at School Coalition, which partners with El Paso County school districts, students, parents and caregivers, and community members to make schools safer for all students, regardless of sexual orientation, transgender status, gender identity or gender expression.
Strait says making schools safer can come down to the “simple things,” such as asking someone’s pronouns.
“Something like that can carry so much weight,” she says. “If you focus on little, everyday things, they can cumulatively add up to our youth living
Under Strait’s leadership, the coalition created a one-page flier detailing how to ensure schools are following anti-bullying laws as well as a school climate survey for young people to identify areas of growth in their schools. She often conducts school-wide trainings on using pronouns and how to be a trusted adult for young people in the LGBTQ+ community.
“I have seen this community grow leaps and bounds.”
“Her work changes lives on macro and micro levels in every school district in the Pikes Peak region,” says Liss Smith, the communications and advocacy director with Inside Out.
After attending the University of Northern Colorado, Strait didn’t always plan on returning to Colorado Springs. The job with Inside Out has helped reframe her relationship with the place she grew up.
“It’s inspiring to me to be able to give back and create safer spaces in this community.” Strait says. “I’m always hoping fewer and fewer youth have to have experiences like I had.”
She gives back, too, by participating in organizations such as PHC District/Community Wellness in Manitou Springs School District 14, Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education Oversight Entity, the statewide school policy coalition led by One Colorado, and the Youth Sexual Health Program, which is led by the Trailhead Institute.
Strait says the goal is to empower young people. “That’s how we can see systemic change in our community.”
This type of work is perhaps even more important following the shooting at Club Q in November, as Smith pointed out.
“Especially after the horrible tragedy at Club Q, our city understands that education around LGBTQIA2+ identities is necessary to end stigma, hateful rhetoric and violence against us,” she says. “So often, the people most impacted by this hate are [youths], who already face so many obstacles. The young people need adults like Noelle in their corner.”
Strait knows that on a personal level. Growing up here, Strait says, “The biggest thing I was lacking was representation.” Now, she gets to be that representation for others.
“It’s important to share that we’re here and we’re proud and we’re living beautifully,” she says. “My perspective is just one person, but I have seen this community grow
leaps and bounds.”