Community and Support for LGBTQ Youth

Youth OUTright

I’ve been involved with Youth OUTright, WNC, Inc. (YO) for almost 8 years, first as a volunteer and ultimately as vice chair of the board. During that time, YO has been the recipient of several grants via the Cathedral of All Souls Outreach Ministries, and I thought the congregation would appreciate knowing how the most recent grant money will be used. It’s an exciting new program, and one that is overdue in Western North Carolina.

First, a bit of background: YO exists to support LGBTQ youth with weekly programming (held at the Congregational Church in downtown Asheville) that is diverse, affirming and designed to increase self-worth in a safe, welcoming and supportive environment. YO was designated as a 501c3 non-profit organization by the IRS in 2009, the same year North Carolina passed anti-bullying legislation. This anti-bullying bill, signed by Governor Bev Pardue, should have been the end of bullying in North Carolina schools, but its enforcement has been problematic. Youth OUTright serves a population of LGBTQ youth in Western North Carolina that encompasses 18 counties, most of them rural. In my role as publicity chair for YO, I developed a list of guidance counselors and gay/straight alliance (GSA) advisers for the broad area we serve, and I send news releases about YO monthly programming and special events to this group on a regular basis. While legislation should ostensibly protect youth from bullying, there are even those in school administrations who ignore the law. Several guidance counselors have even asked to be removed from the YO mailing list.

With funding from All Souls, as well as our other partners for this initiative, which include the Community Foundation of Henderson County, Perry N. Rudnick Endowment Fund, and TD Charitable Foundation, Youth OUTright is introducing the WNC GSA Initiative to strengthen existing GSAs, develop a communications network and working relationships between YO and the GSAs, and help establish new GSAs, especially in the more rural counties.

GSAs and YO discourage bullying within our schools and local communities in part by acting as watchdogs over these environments. We help counter the effects of bullying by helping youth to be more self-confident and to develop a sense of belonging and community. Participants will benefit by collaborating with others who are similarly committed to empowering LGBTQ youth.

In YO’s first four years of existence, the number of WNC youth served quadrupled, from 200 in 2009 to over 1,000 in 2012. Those numbers continue to increase as YO establishes itself as the go-to organization for LGBTQ youth in Western North Carolina. And the WNC GSA Initiative will broaden YO’s outreach by consolidating scarce financial and human resources and developing an administrative model (managed by YO) that can build and sustain continuity when school years end, youth graduate, and advisers change jobs.

Thank you, All Souls Outreach Ministries, for helping this important initiative reach WNC youth!

Youth OUTright, WNC, Inc., a 501c-3, non-profit organization, offers discussion groups and social activities for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, ages 14-23. Topics and activities are led by two trained facilitators. Youth OUTright’s mission is to empower LGBTQ youth to be confident and vital members of the greater community. For additional information, please visit: www.youthoutright.org

by Susan Blexrud

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