New LGBTQ+ Center opens in Lake County


Ariella Bucio

Nikki Michele is the executive director of the LGBTQ+ Center of Lake County. Currently, their meetings are all virtual, but their future plans include opening a physical space in Waukegan.

When Nikki Michele and her family moved to Waukegan in September, she was struck by the lack of resources available for members of the LGBTQ+ community. In Racine, Wisconsin, where Michele and her family lived before moving, she was a volunteer at the LGBT Center of Southeast Wisconsin. Her experiences there encouraged her to open her own center in Lake County late last year. 

Not only did the Racine center provide a resource for members of the LGBTQ+ community to participate in support groups and engage with other members of that community, but it was also available for those who don’t identify as LGBTQ+ as a place to learn about that community. 

Michele’s oldest child is transgender non-binary. People don’t always understand what it means to be non-binary, so Michele is often asked to explain.  

“As a queer family, I’m interacting with people all the time. And they will be like, ‘Your kid uses they/them pronouns? That doesn’t make any sense. That’s not grammatically correct,’” she said.   

When Michele lived in Racine, she would carry the LGBT center’s business cards around with her. When she was asked those questions, she’d hand them a card and suggest that they go to the center and learn. But when Michele and her family moved to Lake County, it quickly became apparent to her that there wasn’t a resource like that around here. 

“I scoured the internet, I asked around, and there really just wasn’t any one place that I could send people or volunteer at. So I just made one myself,” Michele said.

In the winter of 2020, Michele reached out to Caroline Beadle about starting this nonprofit. Beadle and her husband have lived in Lake County for 17 years, and her husband is the executive director of Waukegan Main Street. Because of connections they’ve established in the community, many startup organizations reach out to them for assistance. Beadle gladly agreed to partner with Michele and became a founding board member. 

The LGBTQ+ Center of Lake County is currently operating in an online-only format, with social events and support groups being held on Discord. Eventually, the center  plans to open a physical space in Waukegan, but many of the funds that would be going toward that are being funneled into Covid-19 relief. But the center felt the need for this resource — even in an online format — was urgent. 

“We were really anxious to try to provide a safe space for especially queer teens during the pandemic because already we’re socially isolated,” Michele said. “But now we can’t even hang out together.”

Once she and her team open a physical space, she hopes the center will be a place where people are able to find whatever resources they need. These resources could span a myriad of topics, ranging from housing to STI testing to finding a therapist who is LGBTQ+ knowledgeable, Michele explained. 

In addition, she hopes to use their “resources to provide training to organizations to make them more LGBTQ friendly,” she explained. This means “any person who interacts with LGBTQ individuals…first responders, schools, doctors, therapists, businesses, other nonprofits.” She hopes to “also provide self-advocacy opportunities to change policies that affect LGBTQ individuals.” 

Junior Amy Paulsen is the president of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance at LHS, and she identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. To her, this new resource is an important step forward. 

“It means that the county is taking a step in the direction of equality and inclusivity. And it also means that people who are struggling with acceptance can find a place where they can have that acceptance that they need,” Paulsen said. 

Michele is proud of the work the center is doing already, but she thinks the county and the world still have a long way to go. She specifically touched on the importance of the passage nationally of the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in virtually all aspects of life.

“It’s really important that we fight back against the rising hate towards the LGBTQ community and get some protections in place,” Michele said.

*If you are looking for resources for LGBTQ+ support, visit the LGBTQ+ Center of Lake County’s website at and/or join the teen Discord server at