UT student initiates online network for local LGBT teens

Anna Weingart, founder of SanghaLink, an online network for local LGBT high school students. (Courtesy photo)

A University of Texas student is in San Antonio promoting a new online network she created which helps local LGBT high school students find a supportive community of like-minded friends.

Anna Weingart is the founder and executive director of the non-profit, SanghaLink. She is completing her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and plans to attend law school.

Sangha is a word in Pali and Sanskrit which means “community.”

Weingart cites her own experience as a teenager as an example of why she created the network. “Little did I know at the time, there were a lot of LGBT youth in my city, but we didn’t have a way to find each other, so we suffered alone,” she said in an email.

“LGBT youth need LGBT friends. Straight allies are important, but when your very identity is the subject of controversy in America, or when your own family rejects you, you need a support network of friends who truly understand what you’re experiencing. That’s why I created SanghaLink,” she explains.

Weingart points out that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24, adding that LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers. She says community can greatly diminish suicidal risk factors.

“After the SCOTUS ruling in June, the media has been quick to celebrate when a famous person comes out of the closet. People mistakenly assume that LGBT youth receive similar reactions when they come out to their peers and family members. I wish that society could change as quickly as trends in the media, but sadly that is not the case. This is why 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT today,” she says.

Creating a connection

SanghaLink creates local networks by going to high schools and enrolling gay-straight alliance sponsors and school social workers, giving them special accounts. If a student is interested in joining the local network, they can reach out to sponsors and social workers to request an email invitation which begins the registration process.

Once they join SanghaLink, students can personalize their profiles, start and respond to discussions, private message, and join GSA groups. “Every metropolitan area has its own GSA group on SanghaLink. These groups are a safe space for students to communicate exclusively with other students from nearby schools,” says Weingart.

SanghaLink is a community for high school students only. Students are required to provide their graduation year when they create an account and their memberships expire when they graduate.

Weingart told Out In SA she would like to eventually work with at least one social worker or GSA sponsor from every high school in San Antonio. SanghaLink is currently in 58 percent of Austin high schools. Weingart plans to launch the network nationwide.

At least one teacher has offered an endorsement of Weingart’s network.

Kate Ward, the sponsor of the GSA at NYOS Charter School in Austin, told the San Marcos Record, “I hear from kids how much they want to find other LGBTQ kids to chat with. With so many feeling abandoned by their families and friends, they need a channel to connect with each other and to create supportive communities while feeling assured of their safety. SanghaLink is that channel, providing kids with a sense of place when the places they’re used to feel unwelcoming.”

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