October 6, 2010

Listen to our kids

How do we let LGBT teenagers in Louisville know they are valuable? How do we support gay youths in our schools and in our homes? What do we do about the epidemic of anti-gay bullying that affects our kids every day?

These questions are at the forefront of the minds of community leaders and individuals who are willing take the recent tragedies in the United States surrounding gay teen suicide and create positive change in the lives of our kids. The issue of anti-gay bullying and the serious effects it has on the well-being of children and young adults has been swept under the rug for far too long. Even as cell phones and the Internet have proven to be avenues to help bullying spread, we have not yet accepted responsibility as a society for the world we are creating for our gay youth. If you’ve read the news, especially in the past couple of weeks, then I don’t need to tell you that some of our kids desperately need our help.

The good news is Louisville has the courage to address these issues head-on. The Louisville Youth Group (LYG) is a community grassroots organization that has helped support young people for 20 years by providing resources and a safe social atmosphere for LGBT youth and their allies. I was a part of LYG in my teenage years and recently reaffirmed my commitment to the group by DJ-ing their Gay Prom. Now, LYG is providing ways to connect anyone who is interested in continuing to advocate for the importance of a child’s physical and emotional safety by getting people together.

On Oct. 15, the Metro United Way is bringing together U of L’s Office for LGBT Services, The Fairness Campaign, non-profits such as YouthBuild Louisville and Steward’s Staff, PFLAG Louisville, various faith communities, educators, mentors, parents, youth service workers and any concerned citizen by hosting LYG’s Community Forum. This powerful public discussion will connect resources and people in helping to spread messages of inclusion and tolerance of all people.

As Donald Taylor, executive director of LYG, puts it, this event will ensure that “everyone knows where to go to lift up LGBT kids in Louisville.” But how? “We’re hosting a community forum to discuss the resources available in the community, assess how we communicate this, identify gaps and commit agencies/leaders to filling those gaps.” By gathering up the resources in one location and focusing face to face, the immediacy of the issue cannot be ignored or lost in an e-mail inbox.

What is inspiring about the efforts of local agencies is that it reminds me of what is already happening in Louisville — programs that I helped support. The Center for Women and Families released, in 2009, a full curriculum designed to not only address perspectives of the bully and the victim, but also to shed light on what it means to not be just a bystander in a bullying situation. The main goal of the “Step In+Speak Up” initiative is to prevent the seed of violence from sprouting in the first place. For more information, check out www.thecenteronline.org.

These types of hands-on programs are going to help make the change. What our local agencies need from the community is continued support. Get involved. Be active. Show up. Let these kids know that we do care. Even just writing a quick note of support or encouragement on LYG’s Facebook wall helps show our great kids that there is a community that values them. For more information on how to get involved, e-mail the Louisville Youth Group at LYGMail@LouisvilleYouthGroup.com.

When you vote, you can help. “Our schools often do not protect sexual minority youth,” Taylor says. “There is no federal legislation to protect them, though it is currently proposed legislation right now and only (Congressman John) Yarmuth is among the 100+ to sign on as cosponsors nationally.”

For every parent struggling to find ways to support LGBT children and allies, one thing that you can do is encourage your child to inquire about a gay/straight alliance (GSA) at their school. If their school doesn’t have one, it is up to the students to initiate one. That is a pretty good first step. Every school has the legal right to a GSA as long as it is federally funded, provides any extra-curricular activities, and the group is student-initiated and faculty sponsored.

If I could personally give every kid the supportive and positive environment I grew up with, I would. Here is a way to start.    

6 suicides

By mbzimmer
Hi, Pam, Here's my ideas for prevention. 1-Required training for all Safe Place personnel in GLBT sensitivity and culture so they won't scare them off if they come in. 2-Required training for all middle school and highschool guidance counselors, including all private schools, in GLBT sensitivity and culture so the kids will come to them if they are bullied. 3-Business cards and posters in all public restrooms which give the Crisis and Information line number with a dedicated line for GLBT youth and specially trained staff/volunteers to answer. It would be a really good idea if adult gays and lesbians were to volunteer to take a shift, huh? And members of PFLAG? Make this the focus volunteer project of KLSC, Log Cabin Republicans, all gay-friendly churches, every gay and lesbian group there is. Walk the talk. 4-A Proclamation by Mayor, Chief of Police, School Superintendent and Metro Council that such bullying will not be tolerated. (Ok, a fantasy, but a good one.) 5-Anonymous teacher volunteers to become the off-campus sponsor of Gay and Lesbian Alliances at all highschools, middleschools and colleges in town. 6-Get pics of all the victims and put their faces out there on public service ads that say, "Not here!" Explicit instructions: Don't hurt yourself. We care and we will help. It has to be a community-wide sign-on like after Katrina, or we haven't lessened any individual 13 year old's chances of suicide. Well, that's my brainstorming for tonight. Thanks for the opportunity. Mary Zimmer