“Don’t grow up invisible” is the motto of Youth Pride in Providence, Rhode Island.
The nonprofit organization serves LGTBQ youth and works to end prejudice.
But since the attack that killed 49 in Orlando, young people may wonder about the cost of being visible as gay, lesbian, transgender or queer.
Fernando, a 17-year-old with Youth Pride, spoke at a vigil in Providence’s Roger Williams Memorial Park last week in response to the shooting.
“Being queer stopped being about marriage and rights, and became a matter of life and
death,” he said, according to a Youth Pride statement.
Young people and adults want to be able to who they are, said Wendy Becker, interim executive director. They want to “do it loudly and proudly” and forget the hate.
But “I think people are very sad and also are scared,” Becker said.
As she spoke, kids were preparing to take part in the annual PrideFest parade in Providence. They were concerned about safety but also had mixed feelings about the increased police presence expected, she said. The parade took place without serious incident on Saturday.
On an average day at Youth Pride, 30 or so young people come by the drop-in center.
The organization began as a YWCA support group in 1992 and now serves about 850 youth under age 23 per year, Becker said. Most are high school students, but the nonprofit recently started a 13-and-under group. It offers support services for youth and training for teachers and other professionals.
Among its events last week was an evening meal. The young people there had a long discussion, Becker said.
“It ended with the youth saying we need to get organized, be more politically active,” she said.
They’ve scheduled a series of meetings to become more active to change things so something good can come out of [the Orlando attack], Becker said.
“They were organizing themselves right before my eyes,” she said. “That was music to my ears.”
Becker said she was “thrilled that they wanted to take fear and anger and turn it into making positive change.”
It’s important for youth workers to listen to young people, she said. “Youth will tell us what they need. “
Teneka, 16, said in a Youth Pride statement: “After what happened, I feel even more that we need to step up, stand up. We need a new movement, after marriage, so that being LGBTQ is just a part of you, not something to be scared of or something you feel you have to hide.”
What youth workers can do: Foster resilience, ‘stand with young people’
In Boston, young people at Boston GLASS, which serves queer youth, went ahead with a big party planned for last Friday. Members of the organization discussed canceling the event, said Akane Kominami, behavioral health services manager, but chose not to. They saw the event as both a potentially healing time and a celebration, she said. About 80 to 90 people were expected.
Boston GLASS, which is run by the Justice Resource Institute, offers a drop-in space, discussion groups, counseling and events — such as movie night — for young people ages 13 to 25. Participants are mostly queer youth of color, Kominami said. The name stands for Boston Gay and Lesbian Social Services.
The Orlando shooting was awful, she said, but on the same day, numerous incidents of gun violence took place across the nation, including a killing in Boston, Kominami said.
It’s not that the world is more unsafe since the shooting, but “it’s another event that informs us once again that the world can be unsafe,” she said.
She suggested youth workers should foster resilience in individuals and resilience as a community.
“The best way you can do this as a youth worker is to be with them and stand with young people,” she said.
“[The shooting] should not be the only focus,”she said. “Be with each person and hear what each person needs.”
Sometimes big events can have more impact on adults than on young people, she said. Be sure that your focus is on what youth are thinking and feeling, and your own needs are not confused with theirs, she said.
But also do what you need in order to make yourself feel better, Kominami advised. Just don’t get the two mixed up, she said.
Check in with young people, provide resources
Jenny Betz, director of education and youth programs for GLSEN, described the week after the shootings as an incredibly painful time.
It impacted people in multiple groups, she said. The LGBTQ, Latino and Muslim communities “all have some connection to this,” she said. “It will be painful for a long, long time.”
GLSEN — the acronym stands for Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — is a nonprofit that works to promote respect for everyone in schools regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
This is a time when anyone who works with young people should check in with them, Betz said.
“Not only was [the Pulse club] a place where a huge number of people were killed … but it was a place where young people … had found to be safe about who they were,” she said.
“There are not a lot of places [like that] in this country,” she said.
Some young people may be upset and fearful, some are mourning, she said. Some are inspired to work to change things, she said.
Some need support — to talk, to just be normal and not have to talk, she added.
Adults need to have resources available so that kids who want to talk can be heard and those who need more support can be referred to counselors, she said.
Several hotlines are also offering services:
The Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990)
New York City Anti-Violence Project (212-714-1141)
Trevor Project (866-488-7386)
GLSEN provides information on LGBT-affirming practices as well as resources on handling crises in a school community.
Adults who work with youth know that in times of upheaval, young people need to have normal structure. It creates the stability needed in order to process events.
GLSEN has a chapter in Orlando, and the members have been going to vigils, checking in with the people they know and supporting the people who’ve been the most impacted, Betz said.
“There are heavy hearts in LGBTQ communities,” she said.
“Everyone is in a different stage in the process,” Betz said.
“[GLSEN] is about teaching respect,” she said. “We can’t stop talking about this.”