From the field • Focus • LGBTQ Youth-Serving Organizations


The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Family Project Director, Ellen Kahn, identified five LGBTQ-serving agencies that consistently use best practices. Below are the five agencies’ responses to a Youth Today  questionnaire.

1) The Ruth Ellis Center  

Founded in 1999

More than 460 unique young people, ages 13 to 24 were served last year in residential, drop-in center and mental health services. The Center “provides long and short-term safe space and support services for runaway, homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth in Detroit and Southeastern Michigan.”

Best practices from which others can learn: We have a mission-specific, residential foster care facility that specializes in LGBTQ youth. We have four principles that inform our programming and policies, interpersonal interactions as a drop-in center, residential program and mental-health programming:

• trauma-informed care

• harm reduction

• youth-driven space

• transformative justice

These principles trust that young people are experts in their own lives and understand who they are. Example of these principles in practice: When we use the term LGBTQ youth, and the Q stands for questioning, just because a young person changes the way they relate to their identity, it doesn’t mean they are confused. It’s a healthy process of questioning and discovering how they want to name how they understand their sexual identity or gender identity. Telling people we trust them or believe them – especially for runaway or homeless youth – that’s a huge thing. With trauma-informed care, we know that LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience trauma or be exposed to violence or struggle with suicidality. So this kind of care is very important.

How do you evaluate your work? How do you know your work makes a difference? 

We use an evaluation tool called CAFAS – Child and Adolescent Functioning Assessment Scale, through the local county mental-health program, which measures concrete outcomes related to wellbeing, such as school safety and permanency of housing, behavior and stability, things related to the home environment. We see improvements on all those measures. The program is LGBTQ-affirming. A lot of young people come to us who’ve had bad experiences with [other] mental-health professionals. For them to be in a space where they feel safe talking openly about how they identify – they’re more likely to show up and have a better rapport with their counselor. A majority of our staff identify as LGBTQ as well. When positive role models can appropriately speak to aspects of their identity, that is huge.

Interview with: Jessie Fullenkamp, LLMSW, director of Second Stories Drop In Center, Ruth Ellis Center. 313.252.1950


2) Time Out Youth North Carolina

According to HRC’s Ellen Khan, Time Out Youth (TOY) is the only LGBT-specific youth program in all of the Carolinas,

Founded in 1991 with a small group of five youth, TOY provides support for personal, social, educational, emotional and psychological challenges associated with understanding their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. TOY has earned a reputation in the Charlotte region as the one – and often only – place where LGBTQ young adults, ages 11 through 20, can come for unconditional support.

Who do you serve? More than 1,560 young people served and 1,314 others through the Speakers Bureau & Safe Zone Trainings. TOY utilizes a systems approach, providing services to any system that touches the youth’s life: parents, teachers, counselors, friends. We have a full-time director of school outreach working with GSAs and school issues, free counseling, emergency housing program and will add a domestic violence program next spring.

Best practices from which others can learn: Time Out Youth Center remains focused on meeting the changing needs of LGBTQ youth. We have developed youth leadership positions and program evaluation that keeps the agency fresh while meeting the needs of our youth. We have four youth board members with full voting rights, a youth senate that selects group topics and plans special events, every Tuesday is dedicated to leadership activities and advocacy, and we have a young adult leaders/mentors program for youth who have aged out of services.

How do you evaluate your work? How do you know your work makes a difference? Time Out Youth Center is a living, youth-led organization. Youth provide constant feedback. Formal evaluation structures are in place to capture quantitative data, such as number of attendees and demographic information, as well as qualitative evaluation through a satisfaction survey and focus groups. We have twice-a-year youth and Board of Directors meetings.

Some feedback directly from TOY youth:  “If I could sum up what TOY means to me, I would say that Time Out Youth is the family that I should have been born into.” —Youth Board Member

“I thought my parents would be upset when I told them I was gay, but I never expected them to kick me out. I wasn’t ready or able to afford to be on my own. I was so scared and didn’t think I had any options until I found Time Out Youth. They helped me find a place to live, food to eat and people that cared about me. I am now going to finish school and have a good life. I think I can make it on my own and someday help other youth like me!” —Host Home program participant

“This is the best place I have ever been in my life!” —First-time Center visitor

Submitted by: Rodney Tucker, executive director, Time Out Youth Center. – 704-344-8335

Photos: Time Out Youth Center was awarded “The Spirit of Pride” at the Charlotte Pride Parade 2013.

3) OUTreach Resource Center Ogden, Utah

Years of service: 9

Who do you serve: We serve 350 youth each year, all youth, and don’t ever publicly ask a youth to identify their gender identity or sexual orientation. To us, labels are boxes to be broken out of, and we know that having a strong ally network for youth is insurance against harm. We can see such a change in the culture of Northern Utah by educating not just LGBT youth, but also youth and adult allies. Once someone knows a person who is gay, has some knowledge about what challenges exist in Utah, we have a strong advocate for positive change in schools and society.

Best practices from which others can learn: We use an asset-based approach. Despite being told by society, peers and, too often, their parents that they are disordered at best, we help LGBT youth uncover their tremendous gifts and strengths through a wide variety of classes, workshops, field trips and programs. Youth respond by becoming more involved in their community, mentor other youth, and without their noticing, achieve improved outcomes like attending school and applying for college, setting goals and finding a job. Suicidal ideation decreases, self-harm is reduced, and the youth are able to share their gifts with others.

How do you know your work makes a difference? Sarah, lesbian, 18, said: “OUTreach is a haven. It doesn’t matter from what — homelessness, a rejecting family, the stress of school or a job — the people of OUTreach are there to offer support and a loving environment. Any youth, LGBT or otherwise, can count on OUTreach to act not just as a resource but also a home, where everyone is equal and everyone is loved.”

Submitted by: Marian Edmonds Allen BS, MDiv, executive director. 801.686.4528


4) YWCA of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio

The YWCA of Greater Cincinnati has been in existence for 146 years and is the fifth oldest association in the nation. The entire YWCA served 6,680 youth ages of 6 to 17 in 2012. Family Violence Prevention serves more than 1,800 youth per year.

Who do you serve? We serve all youth, with our core value being that we place fiscal, social and financial capital toward underserved youth, such as LGBTQ.

Best practices from which others can learn: The YWCA is very inclusive, especially as it relates to trying to generate systems-based change that impacts the emotional/physical safety, wellness and academic performance of LGBT youth. We focus on this through preventing LGBT bullying: We lead a community task force and bring together a child abuse organization, GLSEN, a mental health organization and HRC to work together to address improving school climates to ensure inclusion and safety within schools. We host annual summits for policymakers, funders, school administrators, counselors, teachers and community service providers to address LGBT bullying and to jumpstart programming in schools such as HRC’s Welcoming Schools and GLSEN Safe Space trainings.

We are also providing a peer webinar to other youth-serving agencies throughout Ohio who are funded by the Ohio Department of Health to address the intersection of homophobia and gender stereotyping through LGBT bullying and sexual violence. This is a critical piece so youth in our state experience safe and healthy lives and are free to be whoever they are and safe to express themselves however they wish.

Our teen dating violence prevention/healthy relationship programming, End Abuse-Embrace Hope, focuses on LGBT relationships as well as heterosexual relationships. We utilize inclusive materials and talk about the connection between homophobia and gender stereotyping as intersections with sexual violence. Also, on all of our forms we empower youth to identify any way they want and began tracking transgender a couple of years ago within our data systems.

Also, the YWCA operates a program called Teens Against Bullying in which 37 high school leaders are engaged in a training process that examines bullying prevention and ending of stereotypes (many are trained in Safe Space trainings through collaboration that we did with GLSEN). They meet monthly throughout the academic year with each other and with 6th and 7th graders to be UPstanders and change agents for prevention of biased-based bullying. We run this program with a rural school in a neighboring county.

Submitted by: Kristin Smith Shrimplin, director of the Family Violence Prevention Project at the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati. 513.361.2144


5) National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association

The CASA movement began in 1977 in King County, Wa., and quickly spread to other states. The National office was established in 1982 and works with a network of approximately 950 local and state programs which, in turn, work with thousands of young people.

Best practices from which others can learn: In terms of LGBTQ youth, we include in our standards, in our volunteer training curriculum, in our continuing education modules and in our annual conference information and materials about how to support LGBTQ youth in foster care. We try to address the issue of the disproportionate numbers of LGBTQ youth in the care system. We have shared podcasts and webinars on increasing LGBT cultural competence and on working with parents of LGBTQ youth.



Does your organization serve exclusively LGBTQ youth or all youth, with specific outreach or inclusive programming components? We support all children and youth in the foster care system. National CASA recognizes the unique challenges that LGBT youth in care face. Different state or local initiatives advocate for LGBT youth in different ways. Their website explores a few from around the country.

How do you evaluate your work? How do you know your work makes a difference? CASA did not provide evaluation impact specific to LGBTQ initiatives; however, outcome statistics on overall effectiveness of CASA is found on CASA’s website, including: a child with a CASA volunteer is more likely to find a safe, permanent home, and is less likely to re-enter foster care or spend time in long-term care. They receive more services and do better in school.

Submitted by: Anthony Petrarca, National CASA Association training director. 206.270.0072


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