By ABBY BELDEN
While growing up, Natalie McCall never knew anyone who was gay.
It was never discussed in church.
It was never discussed in school, unless in a derogatory manner or someone was being ridiculed.
She learned early on if she had such feelings, they were to be hidden and she was to do what was expected of her.
"I came down to Hays, same thing," she said. "I did what was expected of me: I married a man. It didn't work out, I finally came out to myself and moved down to Wichita, where I was able to experience community, and I had never had any of that before."
After coming out as a lesbian and returning to Hays from completing her graduate school degree from Wichita State University in 2009, McCall started thinking of ways she could bring similar LGBT resources to Hays.
This is when McCall's idea of Open Roads LGBT Community Center took shape.
Open Roads, a new organization that is aimed at LGBT individuals and their allies, is looking to offer support and resources individuals need in rural areas.
"It is going to allow allies and other people who are supportive to emerge and be able to be there for the LGBT population," she said. "The LGBT population is going to feel more accepted that they can be more themselves, and know that there are people out there who are accepting."
Three years after returning to Hays, McCall now is working on selecting board members and filing articles of incorporation with the state to become an official nonprofit organization, but the program remains in the beginning stages.
Open Roads features group chats from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. the first, second and third Wednesday of every month at Trinity Lutheran Church, 2703 Fort.
McCall said the first Wednesday of the month is for those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The following Wednesday is for people questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, while the third Wednesday is for family and friends.
She started having the meetings in August, which had small turnouts.
"I had a few people show up to the first, no one showed up for the questioning one, which I expected," she said. "Who wants to be the person seen walking in because then people will think that about them and that's not something they want known?"
She said the meetings slowly have been attracting more people, as well as email correspondence.
In addition to being a support resource, McCall said Open Roads is looking to be an educational tool for schools, the community and employers.
"A lot of people struggle with dual lives, like being out some places, but not being out other places," McCall said.
McCall's solution is education and public awareness.
"It goes back to that public education and getting knowledge to not be scared of it, to not to avoid it," she said.
McCall also said more people are accepting of the LGBT community -- they just do not talk about it. She also added most people know or will know someone who is gay.
"Its just important for people to realize they know someone who is gay. ... It's not an out-there issue, it's a right-here issue," McCall said. "It's important for the people who are questioning themselves, for the people who are out; it's important for your coworkers, and for the person sitting next to you in the pew."