The Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), an organization dedicated to the needs of LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 21 in the D.C. area, is calling for action to support local gay youth.
(Photo by Todd Franson)
The call for increased services follows the release of SMYAL's Jan. 24 report, ''Addressing the Urgent Needs of DC Area LGBTQ Youth.''
''Last year we conducted a needs assessment,'' says Andrew Barnett, executive director of SMYAL. ''We looked at the available data, both locally and nationally about LGBT youth, their risk behaviors, and also looked at data and programs that showed what was working. We also conducted a series of focus groups with LGBTQ youth. So we wanted to get that extra dimension to our picture of what the needs really look like.''
Similar to what's been reported in the past, SMYAL found that these young people are at greater risk for many negative health outcomes including homelessness, victimization in schools, HIV/AIDS, and mental health issues such as depression.
''One of the key takeaways we had from this process, and that we highlight in this report, is that as a community it's going to take every single stakeholder working together to serve LGBT youth and address these issues,'' Barnett says.
Included in the 20-page report is a list of recommendations to improve conditions for LGBTQ youth, such as educating schools and community service providers to ensure that they are safe and affirming for LGBTQ youth. SMYAL also suggests that community organizations incorporate popular technology and communication to outreach to youth by means of text messaging and social networking websites.
SMYAL has been working to make things better for youth by providing afterschool programming to more than 350 LGBTQ youth annually.
''At SMYAL we certainly see our role as both providing a safe space … and also going out and training other providers on how to work with LGBT youth,'' he says. ''More and more it's going to require those partnerships. We really need to make sure that every place that a youth might find themselves in this city those service providers really need to be culturally competent to work with LGBT youth.''