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Parents must also "come out"
IYG Executive Director Mary Byrne would like funding to support IYG programming to help parents come to terms with their child being gay, lesbian, or transgender. "Because the acceptance and rejection by parents is so important to the self-esteem of these young people, we want to have a program to help parents," she says. "It is a unique situation because it ends up that a parent has to come out too."
Byrne acknowledges that it may take an LGBT person a long time to come to terms with who they are. Yet, they may expect others to be OK with it overnight. "There's a lot of information that people need to receive and issues they have to work through," she says.
"If you are a parent, are you going to put a picture of your son with his boyfriend on your desk at work? Are you going to talk to your pastor? Is it going to come up at church? Are people going to be OK with you having a lesbian daughter? There are ramifications to parents and families when a child comes out."
Byrne adds that IYG programs to help parents will ultimately benefit the youth. "The youth come here, but they all have to go home."
IYG advocates on behalf of LGBT youth in schools, in the community, and through family support service. Byrne explains that the mission of IYG includes creating many safe places in the community for the young people going out into it.
"We have a lot of speaking engagements, conferences, and cultural competency trainings. We are willing to come to any business, social service agency, any church, any group that wants to learn and become more welcoming. We are very willing to come out and speak to them, and we can customize our training for that group."
Gay-Straight Alliances: helping in the schools
Graham Brinklow is the IYG education outreach coordinator. "I have two aspects to my job," he says. "My main job is to facilitate the gay-straight alliance network and I go out to schools and help them start or re-start GSA or give them ideas on how to change things in their schools or communities."
A gay-straight alliance is a club for LGBT youth and their straight allies who meet to see what they can do to reduce homophobia and transphobia in their schools. Brinklow says the GSA tries to educate. "Sometimes it's a support group or socializing group or they might do advocacy in their schools, trying to change policies or educate their schoolmates on LGBT stereotypes, such as not calling someone a faggot or dike and things of that sort."
The second part of Brinklow's job is LGBT Cultural Competency training. He explains that IYG talks to organizations about basic terms and phrases in the LGBT community. "We give them a basic knowledge, such as etiquette towards trans or gender-variant members of the community, or what they can do to help students or youth or adults."
Brinklow speaks with college classes, especially for education and social work majors. He has also done training for colleges, churches, department of social services, future foster parents, the Marion County Juvenile Justice Department and front-line caseworkers, the EEOC, sexual assault caseworkers, along with a wide variety of businesses and organizations.
"I tweak the training and specialize it for certain groups," he says. "I also work with homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters and do trainings for them as well ... trying to talk about proper support and housing for gay men or trans women ... depending on how feminine they are, sending them to some of the city shelters is not safe."
How you can help
"The very first thing is don't assume that all teenagers are heterosexual," Byrne says. "Instead of asking, 'Do you have a boyfriend or do you have a girlfriend?' You might ask, "Are you dating anyone?" Words are very important when you want to convey to a young person that you are OK with whoever they are.
"In order for you to be welcoming and for a teenager to know that you might be a safe person to talk to, you have to start talking to all youth in a way that includes LGBT youth."
Ginny Babbitt, IYG volunteer coordinator adds, "We are such a youth friendly city and so many nonprofits are focused on youth work. I would like to collaborate more and bring LGBT into the other youth organizations. We have our differences, but in general we're all working for the same cause of building confidence for youth who will be going to college in a few years and, hopefully, avoiding the brain drain within Indiana.
"We can work at keeping these youth involved in the businesses here in Indy if they've had a positive experience growing up here."
Shawn: "I'm going to college for social work. I hope to be a case manager either at a hospital or IYG. I hope to get my BA and then masters at IUPUI. And I hope to give back to the IYG community."
Joe: "I want the all-American dream: a nice career, a husband beside me, kids, family and friends. I do not know quite what I want to do for a career anymore, but my main intention is that I want to help people. This place is helping, and so I want to give back. I want to be involved with the community and try to make this place as great as it can be and just be there for people. IYG has been there for people. It has made me want to strive to be the best I can be."
Yriel: "I want to go to college and get into nursing school. I also like math so maybe accounting or become a college professor. That's my dream."
Michael: "For a long time I thought I wanted to be a firefighter, and I finally passed my physical tests and I was so excited... I still don't know. I want to go into public speaking but what would I do with that? Since I was a little kid, I wanted to go into politics but with my situation ... it's really unheard of. People are supportive of it, but the entire country is not supportive. I'm not going to give up on my dreams. I'm just trying to figure out what I can do that is realistic."
Kacey: "I don't know what I want to do right now. I'm majoring in psychology. I hope to go to IUPUI. I don't really know what I would do with psychology yet. I'm interested in mental diseases, and I always had this picture in my head of getting into the FBI and doing profiling, as a field agent... but I'm not sure. I don't want to limit myself and that's where I get stuck. But right now, psychology."
LGBTQ in need could contact The Trevor Project, a 24-hour, 365-days-a year hotline at 1-866-4U-TREVOR for LGBTQ youth in crisis (i.e. suicidal, homeless, abused, or just if they have questions and are too embarrassed to ask anyone they know); or online at www.thetrevorhelpline.org.
If experiencing a high level of parental rejection, LGBT Youth are:
8.5 times more likely to attempt suicide
6 times more likely to report high levels of depression
3.5 times more likely to use drugs
3.5 times more likely to engage in unprotected sex
Source: Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latina lesbian, gay and bisexual young adults. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 123, 346-352.
Ways to assist IYG's mission:
1. Go to www.indianayouthgroup.org and make a donation. "That is something we're always going to need to keep doors open and expand our services," Byrne says.
2. Volunteer. If the money is scarce and concerned citizens have three or four hours a month, they can come in and help work with youth or help with a fundraising event or bring in food. "There's a wide range of ways people can help if they want to be physically involved," Byrne says.
3. Organize LGBT Cultural Competency training in your school, church, or organization. "You're sending a great message if you're willing to have us talk to your agency, business, or congregation about LGBT youth," Byrne says.
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