Metro Weekly

SMYAL offers DC’s LGBTQ youth a safe space

SMYAL's programming offers LGBTQ youth support they may not easily find elsewhere

SMYAL at the Youth Pride 20th Anniversary in Dupont-Circle — Photo: Ward Morrison

What’s the hardest part about offering a support and mentoring service to LGBTQ youth? Ensuring they actually know it exists.

“We try to spread the word about our programs by reaching out and traveling to schools, parks, subway stations, any places where we know youth hang out,” says Adalphie Johnson, director of programs at Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders — or, SMYAL. “We also have a strong social media presence online.”

Every Tuesday through Friday from 4-7 p.m., SMYAL opens its Drop-In Center to LGBTQ youth from around the city. Each night brings a different focus, with Tuesdays dedicated to transgender and nonbinary youth, Wednesdays to issues of sexual health and general health and wellness, and Thursdays to activism, including community organizing and social justice. And for anyone not interested in participating, it offers a safe, welcoming space to do homework or hang out in an environment where they feel accepted for who they are.

Friday is usually reserved for a weekly “Rec Night,” where participants can watch movies, play board games, or sing karaoke. But on Friday, Oct. 27, SMYAL staff and volunteers will transform the downstairs level of the organization’s headquarters into a haunted house, just in time for Halloween. Those who successfully navigate the maze within will be rewarded on the backyard patio with a cookout.

If Halloween isn’t enough, Friday, Nov. 17, will bring “Friendsgiving,” an annual event where staff, clients, and their families share a Thanksgiving-themed meal. For some it’s a necessary evening of warmth and community — particularly during the holidays, as SMYAL acts as a substitute family to many of the youth it serves.

“Many of our young people come from family structures or situations that are not necessarily supportive of who they are,” she says. “That’s why many of our youth, even when they’re outside of SMYAL, band together, talk on the phone, communicate on social media, and go to various other events, just so they can find a sense of community and feel safe.”

SMYAL is located at 410 7th St. SE, a few blocks from the Eastern Market Metro Station. For more information about SMYAL’s weekly programming and a schedule of upcoming events, visit smyal.org.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com