During a New Jersey organization’s annual amusement-park trip, one member was nervous because of a secret he was keeping.
Ray Truitt is a member of The Arc Mercer, a grassroots organization that provides opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities. Truitt was having a conversation with Steven Cook, the organization’s executive director, and came out to him as gay.
“We’re very close friends and I wanted to tell him something, and it was hard for me to come out to him because I didn’t know how he was going to react,” Truitt said.
In a statement, Cook noted that it was hard for Truitt to come out “doubly, as someone with” a dual diagnosis of a mental health and intellectual-developmental disability.
“There was no real place for him to turn,” Cook said. “It was an ‘aha’ moment for me, an epiphany. I remembered how hard it was for me to tell my parents I was gay years ago. The need for a support organization for LGBTQ people with special needs crystallized in that moment.”
From this conversation, The Arc Mercer gave birth to SNAP (Special Needs Alliance for Pride), a group for LGBT people with special needs. The organization introduced SNAP in June with a social event at the Trenton Social Club, where the group continues to meet monthly.
“SNAP strives for integration,” said Communications Manager Daniel Meara. “We want to help special-needs people integrate with the larger LGBTQ community [and] we want to make it known that we have come up with this model.”
Meara added that organizers believe SNAP is the first organization in the country to work against the isolation of LGBT people with special needs. Additionally, at its social event next week, the group will officially launch its plan for counseling services.
He also said the organization is looking into other potential programming. This includes developing training programs, gay-straight alliances focusing on similar issues and providing assistance to LGBT couples who adopt special-needs children.
“I’m hoping [SNAP] will bring more people like us with disabilities and also open the door to other LGBT people who are afraid to come out,” Truitt said.
“My life is great,” Truitt said about his involvement in SNAP. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
SNAP will hold its next event 5:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at Trenton Social Club, 449 S. Broad St., Trenton, N.J. For more information, visit arcmercer.org/special-needs-alliance-pride-snap/.