Metro Weekly

SMYAL moves its youth programs online in response to COVID-19

D.C.'s largest LGBTQ youth group tries to stay connected even as people are urged to practice social distancing

smyal, dc, coronavirus

Q Chat Space at SMYAL

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the D.C. area LGBTQ youth group Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders has announced it will be moving all its programs to virtual platforms.

The move to digital platforms is a precautionary measure intended to help people socially distance themselves in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 so that hospitals are not overwhelmed with patients suffering from respiratory distress.

SMYAL will continue offering support groups online through Zoom, text, Q Chat Space, phone, and email. Programs will be offered Monday through Friday, with opportunities to connect with peers and SMYAL staff throughout the day.

Youth ages 13-24 will be able to access chat rooms from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. on Monday through Friday, as well as 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. from Tuesday through Friday. SMYAL will also hold “virtual drop-in programs” from 4-7 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday.

Ensuring youth stay engaged is crucial to fostering good mental health and self-esteem. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Youth Survey, LGBTQ youth report feeling a greater sense of isolation or separation from their community. By ensuring the support groups continue meeting — even if not physically — SMYAL is attempting to foster a sense of community among LGBTQ youth by providing an outlet to express themselves and keep up-to-date with their peers.

“The SMYAL staff has been actively adjusting to the evolving situation while considering how we can continue serving as a resource for LGBTQ youth across the DMV,” SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir said in a statement. “We can not afford to leave our community without support. There is still a need to continue providing stability and community, especially to young LGBTQ people. SMYAL will continue to be here for the youth who need us, perhaps now more than ever.”

For more information about SMYAL’s virtual programming, visit www.smyal.org/VirtualPrograms.

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

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