Partnership supports LGBTQA+ youth
Last year, thanks to the support of a generous donor via the NH Charitable Foundation, BBBSNH and Seacoast Outright formally partnered to launch a program aimed at better serving LGBTQA+ youth. Named P.R.I.S.M. (Pride, Respect, Identity, Safety, Mentoring), this program seeks to enroll and match LGBTQA+ youth and volunteer mentors, particularly in rural communities where youth may not be able to access other supportive services. Read more about our partner in this critical program, and about how you can get involved as a mentor or connect a child or teen you know with mentoring and peer support services.
By Hershey Hirschkop
Executive Director, Seacoast Outright
Seacoast Outright was formed 27 years ago by a group of concerned educators, counselors, clergy, physicians, and community members, the result of a day long conference at the University of New Hampshire focusing on the needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) youth.
Since that moment, we have served thousands of LGBTQ kids in New Hampshire, Maine, and northern Massachusetts, hosting weekly, adult-facilitated youth support groups and a monthly parent support group, as well as providing referrals, resources, and outreach to the greater Seacoast community. We offer cultural proficiency trainings to other organizations, particularly schools and health centers, and soon will be rolling out a “queering” space makeover program. We also know how to party, with an annual Halloween Party, Summer Cookout, and Open Mic Night. And of course we celebrate a week of PRIDE in June – movies at the Loft, specials at restaurants, Puppy Pride, all culminating in our big march through Portsmouth, and a marketplace with speeches, live entertainment, and over 100 vendors.
While it might seem from the “It gets better” movement that things have indeed gotten better for LGBTQ youth, statistical and qualitative research tells a different story.
We hear it every week. Data suggests that about half our transgender youth will attempt suicide before the age of 25. All LGBTQ youth are bullied in school, and possibly by family as well. Most school districts still have no policies in place to protect these youth in very basic ways and often do just the opposite by institutionalizing discrimination. We’ve heard many youth say they don’t walk around at school after classes out of fear of verbal harassment and physical harm. Mental health issues, particular anxiety and depression, are higher in LGBTQ youth, often the result of discrimination and the lack of protection afforded them.
For kids who also face the intersecting challenges of poverty, food scarcity, lack of healthcare, and an unsupportive household, being queer only adds to the daily stress of survival. Many will leave home due to the lack of support within their family, accounting for the alarming statistic that up to 40% of homeless kids are LGBTQ.
Seacoast Outright offers a safe space for kids to be themselves, discuss their lives, meet other LGBTQ youth, and learn from positive adult role models. We help them grapple with issues of identity, belonging, and family. Many youth struggle to assert who they are to the world. For others, self-acceptance came early, and they instead face the challenge to be safe, seen, heard, and respected on a daily basis at a very young age. For some kids, especially transgender ones, the two hours each week in support group might be the only time they get to use the name and pronouns that make them feel whole and wear the clothes that reflect their true self. In order to ensure kids have all the support they need, we also offer informal case management, providing referrals to other resources, especially LGBTQ-conversant therapists and medical care.
P.R.I.S.M., our partnership program with BBBSNH, is an opportunity to reach kids in rural New Hampshire, who otherwise can’t access any other support and would be alone and hiding from everyone around them. It is no small thing to have an adult to lean on, and will, quite literally, save the lives of our LGBTQ youth.
Learn more about Seacoast Outright at www.seacoastoutright.org. To learn more about becoming a mentor or enrolling a child in the PRISM program, contact BBBSNH Manager of Site Based Programs Jennifer Geary (MacLeay) at firstname.lastname@example.org.