National Coming Out Day: Remembering the Needs of All LGBT Youth
October 11, 2012 by Ellen Kahn, Director of the Children, Youth & Families Program
On this National Coming Out Day and with the release of the new HRC report on LGBT youth and “out-ness,” I was inspired to write about a recent visit to Detroit, Michigan where I had the great pleasure of meeting several LGBT youth affiliated with The Ruth Ellis Center. The primary reason for my visit to Detroit was to address leaders of Wayne County’s Department of Child and Family Services about our All Children—All Families Initiative, which helps agencies become more welcoming to LGBT foster and adoptive parents, and the specific needs and experiences of LGBT youth in foster care. I was joined by my colleague Mimi Laver, a Director at the American Bar Association specializing in LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system.
While there, Mimi and I were invited to a tour of the Ruth Ellis Center and asked to participate in a long-term planning meeting with their leadership team. The Ruth Ellis Center is a life-saving, life-transforming organization that was established three years ago in Detroit with the goal of supporting the astonishingly high number of LGBT youth on the streets, couch surfing, or at risk of being homeless due to family rejection.
It’s so important to remember that while we encourage young people to be out and open about their LGBT identity, we know that far too many young people face negative reactions when they take this bold step: rejection from family, verbal or physical harassment at school and in their neighborhoods, and feeling scared and alone. For youth in Detroit who face these most dire circumstances, as well as for all LGBT youth who are looking for a sense of community and social connection, the Ruth Ellis Center is a beacon of hope and life.
The young people I met have developed very close friendships with one another, hanging out together and taking on leadership in their community. One young man started doing HIV/AIDS prevention work after his close friend (age 22) was diagnosed with HIV. A young transgender woman has become an active speaker with the “Out in the System” program which helps to educate child welfare professionals about the experience of LGBT youth growing up in foster care. The Ruth Ellis Center provides housing, support groups, job training, counseling, clothing, referrals, and a beautiful drop-in where youth can find safety, a warm smile, and loving adults who are dedicated to help them succeed in life. In just this last year, The Ruth Ellis Center served over 4,000 youth---this can be viewed as good or bad news depending on your view.
I can say with confidence, however, that these young people---from all walks of life and with different situations and needs, are better off because The Ruth Ellis Center was there. They got something they couldn’t get at home, at school, or elsewhere. All of us should be grateful that as more youth come out in Detroit they can rely on this precious resource to help them through their toughest times.
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