This Year, Celebrate Pride by Supporting the Youngest Community Members
Honoring Every Sect of the LGBTQ+ Community
Pride is a time of celebration and remembrance in New York City, when the vibrant LBGTQ+ community and allies reflect on the past and appreciate the present.
But amid the performances and parades, organizations that serve the city’s displaced LGBTQ+ youth want you to know that there are still voices that need to be amplified.
These may be kids who were thrown out of their homes for expressing their true identities. They may be homeless, hungry, missing key educational moments, and feeling marginalized even by their own community.
They come to Robin Hood’s community partners — from Ali Forney and the Hetrick-Martin Institute to The Door, Streetwork Project, and more — looking for a safe place to sleep, for a job to help them get on their feet, for an opportunity at an education, for a meal, and a shot at a stable lifestyle.
Many of them exist at the hypermarginalized intersection of identifying as both queer and as people of color, and far too many are living in poverty.
So what can New Yorkers do to support this population that often gets excluded from the conversations about Pride and what it means to be LGBTQ+ in New York City?
“Hire LGBTQ+ young people, give them opportunities to thrive, create spaces that give them the opportunity to shine and show their creativity, resilience, and activism,” says Amy Harclerode, Chief Development Officer at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ youth services agency.
Among the many functions of the Hetrick-Martin Institute is their robust programming to further kids’ mental health and connect them with government benefits.
Most of all, says Harclerode, HMI “provides a safe space for our young people to lead their community and cultivate their voice.”
For this community, COVID-19 has been devastating as these safe spaces for kids were forced to shut down.
Kelsey Louie, CEO of The Door, said the pandemic has caused “an exponential increase” in mental health challenges among young people.
“This has been particularly true for LGBTQ+ youth, as they face familial rejection, unstable housing, and lack of access to comprehensive mental health resources,” Louie says.
So The Door embeds a mental health continuum at every touchpoint. “In response to heightened need during this ongoing mental-health crisis, we have continuously advanced trauma-informed, culturally competent mental health support across our organization,” Louie says. “We continue to offer an amalgam of behavioral health resources geared to the distinct needs of LGBTQ+ youth, including individualized psychotherapy, LGBTQ+ affinity groups, support groups, community-based mental health, and crisis and emergency services.”
Investing in this mental health work, says Louie, will be critical moving forward.
At the Streetwork Project, a part of Safe Horizon, homeless youth can drop in for wraparound services, from health to housing and more.
The struggles of LGBTQ kids, says Sebastien Vante, Director of Streetwork’s Uptown Drop In Center, are very specific. They center around violence, homelessness, and mental health, and are especially pronounced for youth of color.
“For many LGBTQ+ youth, it is still not safe for them to be themselves in various public settings,” Vante says. “They are continually assessing what safety looks like in different environments, and this takes a large toll on mental health and well-being.”
Pride, Vante says, is a time for all of us to renew our support for these young people. “Each June provides an opportunity for New Yorkers to not only celebrate the many talents and skills of LGBTQ+ youth, but to also commit to standing up throughout the year to learn about the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community and how they can support the movement.”
Alex Roque, President and Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, has some tangible ideas for those looking to begin or increase their support.
Many of the kids who come to all of these organizations for help have been rejected by their families. They may have had to return to those unwelcoming environments during the pandemic, and may have lost family members. Their trauma has been compounded, and groups are only beginning to see the fallout effects. The amount of help needed, they all predict, will be astronomical.
Roque suggests starting by speaking out. “One important way to support is to become involved with advocacy work and use your voice and privilege to demand care and support from our city and state agencies.” This includes recent advocacy pushes to change state laws around gender-affirming care for kids under 18 in homeless shelters, and to add more beds at shelters.
On a micro level, changing our own behaviors is a show of support. “Be an affirming person in an LGBTQ+ youth life by using gender pronouns, ally flags, or LGBTQ+ positive language in your social media profiles and email signatures,” Roque says. “Work to disrupt homophobia and transphobia in your family and friend circles by sharing your affirmation and support of the community. It’s not just the right thing to do; it can also save lives. Studies have shown that one affirming adult in an LGBTQ+ young person’s life can reduce suicidal ideation by 40%.”
You can give your resources and time, too — by donating to agencies, fulfilling Amazon wishlists, volunteering to mentor or tutor. “In addition to offering concrete support by volunteering, you are also demonstrating for a young person who has been rejected by their parents that you don’t believe there is anything wrong with who they are,” Roque says.
However you choose to support, giving your time and resources to the LGBTQ+ youth movement is crucial, says Harclerode — after all, they started it.
“The LGBTQ+ movement was driven by young people — and that continues to be the case,” she says. “It is the job of the rest of us to give them what they need and watch them change the world.”
Robin Hood is proud to support the LGBTQ+ community in New York City. Happy Pride.