The issue of youth homelessness has been an unsolvable one for decades, spanning generations that perpetuate the cycle of struggle and disenfranchisement in our diverse, multigenerational community. Youth homelessness is a crisis that has not been alleviated by other rights advancements such as marriage equality or non-discrimination legislation. Furthermore, when we speak of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, the discussion often focuses on urban centers where youth flock, both in search of amenities and acceptance.

Youth homelessness is often underreported and under-serviced rural areas, where it is arguably needed the most. While Pride month may be over, we are still LGBTQ+ for the remainder of the year and for young people coming out and seeking acceptance, every day confronts them with the issue of where they are to go if they are kicked out of home for being who they are. Outside of the coasts and major metropolises, how do LGBTQ+ youth locate and access programs and services such as shelter, supportive counseling, education and community to survive their youth?

The LGBTQ+ Family Connections Center ( aims to address such challenges, specifically addressing the needs of homeless LGBTQ+ youth in the Upper Great Plains region, primarily South Dakota’s Black Hills, all while serving the local Rapid City LGBTQ+ community, to North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Montana.

While many only understood the plight of LGBTQ+ youth in these regions after the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, two decades have passed and more needs to be done to provide refuge for youth in need who are escaping intolerance and violence. It’s estimated that there are more than 28,000 LGBTQ+ people in a 200-mile radius of Rapid City.

Now, Joe Barb, Executive Director, President and Founder of the LGBTQ+ Family Connections Center reveals his mission to establish a refuge that is a Counseling Center, Destination Community Center, Employment Resource, Emergency Housing Solution, and Rapid Rehoming for the LGBTQ+ community, youth, individuals, and their families in this under-served region.

Talking exclusively with Queer Forty, Barb revealed that his lightbulb moment was when his barber told him about his teen trans male stepson moving in and they were having trouble finding supportive counseling. More than half the family has rejected him, refused to use correct pronouns, or even speak to him. He was at risk of dropping out of school, his biological father packed his things in trash bags, and dropped him at his stepdad and mom’s house and refused to participate in parenting his own child any further.

“I connected with how broken I was as a late teen, the shame I felt for being LGBTQ+, for having no communication with family for five years, and I promised to immediately assist. I then contacted some friends, in the professional world, who later became our Board of Directors, to find assistance for the youth, and family. My barber, like myself and my family, prefer rural America over large metro areas, and in doing research I discovered just how desperately the Upper Great Plains needed targeted LGBTQ+ services.”

Currently, the Center is securing a destination including cabins, counseling offices, and community center as part of a site specifically for youth. Uniquely, the destination will take advantage of the rural setting and offer 10 full-amenity cabins, campfires, individual and group counseling, peer support and community building, plus bonding around recreational activities such a hiking, s’mores, and outdoor movie theatre.

Joe’s mission has attracted plenty of support including rock goddess Pat Benatar. Joe explained: “Pat Benatar’s brother, Andrew Andrzejewski, was part of the LGBTQ+ community. Tragically, he lost his life in 2002, and never lived his dream of one day being married with his own family. I was working one day, listening to background music and Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo’s song, ‘Hell is for Children’ came on, and, lyrically, this song, and so many more of their songs, were so very powerful to me, and still are today. I decided to reach out to Pat and Neil and they responded. We asked if they’d consider a benefit concert and Pat’s management suggested that Pat and Neil would perform and record some special songs to be used by our organization for fundraising.”

If you want to support the work of the The LGBTQ+ Family Connections Center, you can make a donation at

Read the full interview with Joe Barb and find out more about The LGBTQ+ Family Connections Center exclusively on Queer Forty: