Updated: Mar 23
Twenty-five years ago, when I was in high school, I’d never met anyone under the age of 45 who spoke of themselves as anything other than straight. I thought I couldn’t be gay until I was “old.” In hindsight that seems ridiculous, but I was young and living in the south. If I had lived in Rhode Island at the time, I’m sure I would have found a way to be a part of a newly forming organization, Youth Pride, Inc. (YPI). Luckily, I was mostly surrounded by family and friends who loved me for myself, no matter who I was or how long it took me to figure it out. I found my way through adolescence and young adulthood, despite the odds. I’ll say it again: I was lucky.
Twenty-five years ago, many other young LGBTQ+ folks weren’t as lucky, and many still aren’t as lucky today. LGBTQ+ youth suffer the effects of family rejection, social isolation, and lack of access to supportive educational, mental, and medical health resources. The result? The statistics are staggering, and speak for themselves:
- More than 40% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students have seriously
considered attempting suicide, and 29% reported having attempted suicide within the year. (CDC, 2015)
- More than 87% of LGBTQ youth report having experienced harassment or assault based on personal characteristics,
including sexual orientation, gender expression, gender, religion, actual or perceived race and ethnicity, and actual or perceived disability. (GLSEN, 2017)
- LGBTQ youth reported experiencing homelessness at a rate 120% higher than youth who identified as heterosexual and cisgender. And
LGBTQ youth make up roughly 40% of the homeless youth populations. (Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, National Estimates: 2017)
- LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk for sanctions, such as being stopped by the police, expelled from school, arrested, or convicted. As a result, LGBTQ youth are over-represented in the justice system, making up 20% of the general population and almost 40% of girls in juvenile facilities. Additionally, of LGBTQ and gender non- conforming youth in juvenile justice facilities, 85% are youth of color. (Center for American Progress, Movement Advancement Project, Youth First. Unjust: LGBTQ Youth Incarcerated in the Juvenile Justice System, 2017.)
At its inception, the idea for YPI was simply to form a support group, but the depth of need soon became clear. At a minimum, LGBTQ+ youth needed to regularly connect with one another and with supportive adults. In December of 1992, in the middle of a snowstorm, four youth and an adult facilitator held their first meeting at the Brown University Sarah Doyle Women’s Center. They shared their experiences, built community, and named themselves “The Way Out.” This small weekly group grew quickly, soon overtaking the Women’s Center’s living room, with dozens of young people sitting on laps, tables, and the floor. In order to meet the needs of this rapidly growing group, “The Way Out” became Youth Pride, Inc. (YPI) and obtained its own tax-exempt status as a not-for-profit organization in 1994. The youth found strength in one another and in their visibility, and they expanded to include social activities.
By responding to the needs and voices of YPI youth, the organization has evolved over the years to become what we are today. YPI’s mission is to meet the unique needs of youth and young adults impacted by sexual orientation and gender identity/ expression while working to end the homophobic and transphobic environments in which they live, work, learn, and play. At our drop- in center on Westminster Street, YPI currently offers four weekly peer- to-peer support groups, including one for gender non- conforming youth and one for youth ages 9 to 13. Counselors are on site daily to provide on-on-one counseling. Staff build connections with youth, directing them to resources at YPI and in the surrounding community. Youth build strength by participating in the OUTSpoken leadership development program, planning activities and events with the Youth Programming Council, and holding seats on YPI’s board of directors.
To meet the very basic needs of youth, YPI offers access to a pantry stocked with food, clothing, toiletries, and school supplies. The pantry is supported through community and corporate donations. In the past year, YPI has distributed over 2,000 pounds of goods to youth in need.
In addition to the services offered in-house, YPI provides hundreds of workshops each year to educators, parents, non-profit organizations, police stations, businesses, corporations, and others interested in learning how to best support LGBTQ+ youth. YPI staff and young leaders provide technical assistance to the more than 45 Gay/ Straight Alliances in middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the state, and work with state agencies and law makers to create policies to better serve LGBTQ+ Rhode Islanders.
As YPI reflects on our 25th anniversary of becoming an organization, we will take a moment on October 10 to celebrate some of the many successes we’ve had as a community, and recognize some of the folks who continue to make that possible, with a gala at Skyline at Waterplace. We expect the event to sell out, so I hope you have your ticket already. If not, you can find more information at youthprideri.org. Exciting things are happening at YPI every day, and as we prepare to roll out our new strategic plan in 2020, we invite you to connect with us and find ways to be a part of the solution. The photos accompanying this article showcase a few of the current YPI youth, staff, and board members, capturing the beauty, joy, and strength that young folks find when they become a part of YPI.
Youth Pride Inc. provides support, education, and advocacy for LGBTQQ young people ages 9-23. Our Drop-in Center is at 473 Westminster Street, Providence, RI. Visit www.youthprideri.org, email info@ youthprideri.org.