Gay Youth Center Planned in Baltimore: Coming Out Younger
The Baltimore Sun reports that the GLBT Community Center at Baltimore is looking to expand and build a youth program where young people coming out can seek advice, assistance, and mentoring.
As more and more gays come out in high school and even junior high, the Baltimore, Maryland Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center sees the need for a drop in center designed specifically for youth.
Andrew Ansel, programs manager says the 33 year old foundation is seeking to expand and dedicate a center for youth by fall of 2010.
Ansel believes that his center has the experience needed to assist LGBT youths, who are more prone to alienation, abuse and homelessness.
Youth are coming out at a lot younger ages," Ansel said. "It is becoming less stigmatizing, but there are still a lot of challenges. It is still very difficult to come out in high school. Ideally the community center would be the central focal point for after-school programming for youth."
Many of the centers and facilities available to assist youths in the city are not "gay-friendly," according to Ansel. Ansel recently met a 16 year old homeless gay youth who reported being harassed and not feeling welcomed at a local homeless shelter for youth. "He did not want to go back there" Ansel stated.
The planned drop-in center will be housed on the first two levels of the organization's four-story Mount Vernon building.
Services to be provided for LGBT Youth:
- HIV testing and
- an overall support system for the youths.
LGBT centers "offer the support and resources that many youths cannot access in school in a safe environment," said Anthony Ramos, director of communications for the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. There are 200 LGBT centers across the country, many of which offer youth services, he added.
The Baltimore center is being planned at a time when budget constraints are making youth and community centers hard to come by and difficult to maintain. Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's economic plan may close more than half the city's centers. She has promised to keep the centers open through the summer if the City Council passes a tax package to help decrease the $121 million budget shortfall.
Ansel estimates that the program will cost from $280,000 to $580,000 a year to run. The planned center is seeking grants and other various sources of funding to pay staff and to keep its doors open.
Ansel says the center is also attempting to work with the Baltimore City public school system to ensure that school system employees will be encouraged to inform students about its existence. The center could also help any schools that wanted to start a gay/straight alliance, Ansel said.
A 10-question survey completed by 63 LGBT youths last year formed the foundation of the planned center. The survey was administered by Connect To Protect, a nationwide initiative geared to creating community-specific programs to reduce the spread of HIV among young people. The company has agreed to provide HIV testing and counseling at the center.
Data show that despite accounting for 3.5 percent of the general population,
- men who have sex with other men accounted for 37 percent of the new HIV infection cases in 2007.
- That was up from 20 percent in 2002.
Ninety-five percent of the LGBT youths surveyed by Bryant's group said they were seeking mentors, so a mentoring program is at the top of the list of planned services.
The mentoring aspect will be a relatively new concept for the LGBT community in Baltimore.
Research shows that gay youths are more likely to face hostile school climates than the general population of youths, according to research from GLSEN.
GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate survey reported that over 60% of gay kids felt unsafe at school. They were more prone to being bullied and harassed, thus causing grade point averages to slip due to increased absences.
According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a New York-based political advocacy group, gay youth account for 40% of homeless young people.