A helping hand for LGBT youth

Chirlane McCray unveils the NYC Unity Project, a community-based approach to increase awareness and acceptance.

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First lady Chirlane McCray announced a new $4.8 million initiative last Tuesday to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.

The NYC Unity Project, which has 16 participating agencies, aims to provide a community-based approach to address unique challenges that LGBT youth face daily, invest more in LGBT resources and create programs to increase awareness and acceptance.

The NYC Department of Youth and Community Development is establishing a second 24-hour youth drop-in center in Jamaica, Queens that will open next month. The shelter, along with the seven existing youth drop-in centers, will provide specialized LGBT services. Marsha’s House, the first LGBT-specific shelter in the adult system, was opened in early 2017 and already provides LGBT services and resources. Over half of homeless and unstably housed youth in New York City identify as LGBT, according to the 2015 Youth Count Report.

Even when LGBT youth age out of youth residential programs, the City is now working towards streamlining the transition process into the adult and family shelter system. This will eliminate additional screening and the intake process.

“Most community-based organizations, their cutoff age is 21, 24 at best,” said Lavender, 22, a youth participant at the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI), an organization in downtown Manhattan that provides both social support and programming for LGBT youth.

Lavender, a youth participant at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, speaks at the Unity Project event. Photo: Liz Hardaway

Lavender came out in high school and had first learned about HMI through youth participants at the YES Center, the youth enrichment program at the LGBT Center. She has participated in the peer education program, the expressive arts program and the Kiki Ballroom scene.

HMI was first organized in 1979 by psychiatrist Dr. Emery Hetrick and New York University professor Dr. Damien Martin after they heard a gay homeless 15 year-old boy was beaten and thrown out of his emergency shelter because of his sexual orientation. The institute is the nation’s oldest organization to support LGBT youth, according to hmi.org. HMI takes in youth from age 13 to 24, and strives to foster a safe and supportive environment for all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity. Each year, HMI helps more than 2,000 individuals through their programs, ranging anywhere from arts, counseling, or education.

The NYC Unity Project will also train 50 health care providers to provide clinical care, such as transition care, and certify more than 500 physicians in providing culturally competent medical care to the LGBT community.

“I want to see more culturally competent medical providers,” Lavender said. “I shouldn’t have to go one state over to get proper medical care.”

The project will also fund seven new communal coalitions aimed to reduce alcohol and substance misuse. A public awareness campaign will be launched centered on LGBT youth and their families in order to build supportive communities, faith networks, schools, workplaces and relationships, as well as suicide prevention, since LGBT youth are almost five times more likely to attempt suicide.

“We still have further to go,” said Sally Kohn, a CNN political commentator and LGBT activist, who spoke at the announcement. “More importantly, the present political environment nationally and in Washington reminds us that we can always go backwards. I think it is really incumbent on us as a city, a community to not just stand still, but to move forward.”

Over the last year, there has been a 60 percent uptick in reports of discrimination and harassment to the New York Commission on Human Rights, said Carmelyn Malalis, Commissioner and Chair of the commission. There has been a 30 percent increase in claims concerning gender identity and sexual orientation.

As of September, 20 transgender people have been killed nationwide in 2017, with all but one being people of color, according to GLAAD. Twenty-seven transgender people were killed in 2016.

“With dangerous rhetoric and hateful policies coming from the White House and it’s allies,” McCray said, “LGBT New Yorkers are on constant alert … their rights hang in the balance.”

The project is also planning on having single-occupancy restrooms in every school citywide by January 2018. The NYC Department of Education is working towards incorporating age-appropriate LGBT content into their lessons. In addition, there will be more support for the Genders & Sexualities Alliance Networks (GSAs), a student-run club found in both middle and high schools, including training sessions for healthy relationships, suicide prevention and leadership.


Originally published in Chelsea News & Our Town Downtown on September 26, 2017.

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