Chris Gonzalez grew up in a traditional Hispanic family in Griffin, Indiana. He studied journalism at Franklin College where he met his life partner Jeff Werner. After moving to Indianapolis in 1986, Gonzalez worked as a volunteer counselor for the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard. During the early years, the hotline was the sole link for teens grappling with their sexuality, conflict with parents, and issues with AIDs.

Chris Gonzalez (right) at the Indiana Youth Group Prom with his partner Jeff Werner (left) and performer Rita Randella (center), 1992
Credit: Rannman via Wikimedia Commons

Calls from a large number of lonely and isolated youth made apparent to Gonzalez the need for a youth support system. With Pat Jordan, he founded the Indianapolis Youth Group in 1987. It later became known as Indiana Youth Group (IYG). The initial meetings took place in Gonzalez’s living room before moving to the Damien Center.

The group has grown since its beginnings. For almost 25 years, IYG operated in a facility the Health Foundation Of Greater Indianapolis donated to the organization. IYG has received such awards as the Lambda Legal Leadership Award for advancing the civil rights of members of the LGBTQ community, the Coalition For Homelessness Intervention And Prevention (CHIP) William A. Crawford Public Services Award for leadership and advocacy for ending youth homeless in Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis Urban League World AIDS Day Youth Services Champion Award.

Gonzalez ensured that the Indiana LGBTQ youth had a national voice. He led the first “Pride Parade” in Indianapolis on Massachusetts Avenue. In addition to his commitment to LGBTQ youth, he worked with Latino youth at the Hispanic Center, Gays and Lesbians Working Against Violence, and lobbied for an Indiana Hate Crime Bill. 

Gonzalez’s legacy remains in the organization he founded. In 2017 IYG moved to a much larger building at 3733 N. Meridian Street. This facility allows the organization to foster community and provide programming that empowers LGBTQ+ youth in a safe space. The Chris Gonzalez Library and Archives, housed at Central Library, serves as a repository of over 7,000 items on LGBTQ history in Central Indiana.

Revised July 2021
 

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