S.A.G.E. Project Co-Founder Honored At Pride Month Event in Springfield By IL Comptroller

By Benjamin Cox on June 12, 2024 at 9:20am

A Jacksonville woman was honored in Springfield yesterday by Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza for her work and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community in Central Illinois.

Comptroller Mendoza honored 3 individuals with recognition during Pride Month for their advocacy and work on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community across the state. June is designated as Pride Month across the country.

Kat Parker, co-founder of the local S.A.G.E. Project, was recognized by Mendoza for her work with local tweens and teens. Mendoza says the project, which meets twice monthly in Jacksonville, provides a great community model and a vital resource for small-town LGBTQ+ children: “The goal of the project is to provide local tweens and teens with a safe space where they can express themselves without judgment. They can talk about personal and social issues and make new friends. It is meant to lessen the isolation and depression that can come with being a queer or questioning person, especially in a small town. The S.A.G.E. Project is also working to build alliances in the community, increase awareness, and decrease prejudice. The Soap Co. Coffee House in Jacksonville, which was the project’s first local business to sign on as a safe space partner, serves as a meeting location for the group each month.”

S.A.G.E, which stands for Sexuality and Gender Education/Equality – has amassed about a dozen regular attendees each month. Founded in 2022 by Parker and Nicole Watson, has partnered with the Phoenix Center in Springfield to offer support, inclusion, and education to anyone who many want it.

Parker says S.A.G.E. hopes to expand its partnerships in the Jacksonville business community to continue offering people a safe place to go: “There is a real crisis. There continues to be a real crisis in small towns especially of not having a place to just be yourself. We got these kids together and we watched them blossom. Sometimes we have 2 kids. Sometimes we have 10 kids. I don’t care if it’s just one. If we help one child, one teenager – then we’re succeeding. If we make small steps in our community forward – that’s a win for us. We are trying really hard to have safe space partners in our community. We have decals that they can put on their windows so everybody – not just people in the queer community – can see that it’s a safe space that they can go to. If they are in town, if they are downtown hanging out and they are running into some kind of problem or they just need a place where they can relax and be themselves – they go into those places [with the decal] and if they need help, they can let the people there know that they need some help: ‘Can I hang out here for awhile? Can we call somebody?’ We are hoping to continue getting more place like that in Jacksonville. We are really excited about it.”

Mendoza says she was proud to honor the 3 advocates in Central Illinois during Pride Month, whom she called “trailblazers” because they continue their work in the face of ignorance and sometimes hate within their own communities.