Newark Plans First Program for LGBT Youth

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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in Newark, N.J., have never had a place to go for counseling, mentoring and stress-free time just to hang out as themselves.

That is about to change, say advocates for those youth.

With the support of school and city officials, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker and City Councilman Raymond Rice, local gay advocates and allies have been holding a series of meetings to plan for the city’s first after-school program for LGBT youth.

“You expect these types of things to happen in a lot of different places,” said Darnell Moore, associate director of the Newark-based United Way of Essex and West Hudson, and the leader of the LGBT after-school initiative. “But when it happens in cities like Newark that people assume to be more homophobic than others, … it speaks to the type of progressive politics and progressive activists we have working here.” Advocates say they hope to have the program up and running by September.

“We’ve got to do a lot of work in a short period of time,” said James Credle, president of the Newark Pride Alliance, another key advocate of the plan.

The program is being modeled after those run by New York City’s Hetrick-Martin Institute, a 30-year-old organization serving thousands of LGBT youth in the metro area. Hetrick-Martin’s after-school programs offer artistic, cultural, health, wellness, GED attainment, job readiness and career exploration programs, as well as counseling sessions.

Institute staff members are working with the Pride Alliance and its partners to select appropriate after-school programming for Newark youth.

According to Moore, the group should have a tentative proposal developed by the middle of this month that will provide a description of the program, its scope of services and its budgetary needs. Several local LGBT youth, as well as adults who work directly with such youth, are serving in leadership roles throughout the planning stages.

The planning for the after-school program is taking place six years after 15-year-old Sakia Gunn, a lesbian from Newark, was killed in a hate crime for refusing the sexual advances of an adult man. Talks with the city at that time about the need for an LBGT counseling center for youth were fruitless.

“Fortunately, we now have a mayor that sees the importance of [a program for gay youth] and isn’t stopped by folks who … offer no solutions but abstinence, or that [gay youth] shouldn’t be in Newark, or that we shouldn’t do anything about the situation,” Credle said.

Contact: James Credle, Newark Pride Alliance, (973) 230-2996; Darnell Moore, United Way of Essex and West Hudson, (973) 624-8300 ext. 230.