Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s conference on ending homelessness in Washington DC. I left this conference with so many innovative strategies that we at the HYP feel it is necessary to communicate them. This will be the first in a series featuring themes we heard at the conference about serving homeless youth. The workshop,“Welcoming, Inclusive, and Affirming Practices for LGBTQ Youth”; lead by Ozella Barnes from Teen Living Programs (Chicago, IL) and Aimee Armata from Larkin Street (San Francisco, CA), was aimed toward helping service providers create a welcoming and inclusive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth.
LGBTQ youth have unique needs that service providers should be aware of and sensitive to. When welcoming LGBTQ youth it is important to first make sure that staff is well equipped and culturally competent. Barnes recommended that organizations formulate guiding philosophies that everyone can agree with. One of the guiding philosophies at Teen Living Programs is the minimum requirement for staff to be clinically trained. Barnes discussed how important it is for staff members to be clinically trained to ensure that there is competency in serving the high needs that youth have. To promote a unified philosophy, Aimee Armata recommended that organizations develop a mission statement that everyone can take to heart and can stand behind. Larkin Street’s mission statement (below)is a good example of this philosophy.
The mission of Larkin Street Youth Services is to create a continuum of services that inspires youth to move beyond the street. We will nurture potential, promote dignity, and support bold steps by all.
Guiding philosophies are important because they allow the entire organization to be on the same page as far as how they interact with youth and each other. Both Barnes and Armata stressed the importance of communication to ensure that there is accountability and an atmosphere of acceptance and success. Barnes described, “The right hand always needs to know what the left hand is doing.”
Barnes and Armata spoke about specific guiding philosophies that foster an atmosphere for welcoming LGBTQ youth. Ms. Barnes spoke about her organization’s continual promotion of non-violence. She emphasized that non-violence should be used in everything from language to body movements. This ensures a safe environment for youth and staff. In the same instance, Barnes discussed how services should always use inclusive language and enforce policies of non-harassment. This is important because it discourages a discriminatory environment.
When working with LGBTQ youth, Armata emphasized the importance of knowing the specific LGBTQ competent services in your area. She provided the workshop with two websites where providers can learn more about serving this population: http://www.glma.org/ and http://www.wpath.org/.
To help youth develop an accepting environment, they recommended retreats to bring solidarity and a sense of community to the young people that they serve. Both providers strongly recommended that youth should be placed in the shelter facility where they feel most comfortable, which is usually in accordance with their gender identity.
Armata left on a strong note with the statement in her presentation, “cultural humility starts with YOU.” She believes that it is important for service providers to acknowledge their own perception of gender and orientation and how it will affect the language, behavior, and advocacy one can do with their organization. She encouraged providers to use gender neutral language and address youth by their name and pronoun of choice; while at the same time encouraging him or her to dress however they feel most comfortable regardless of their biological sex.
The practices that these women developed were supported by years of experience and an intense passion towards the youth they served. Being in a room and actually seeing with my own eyes the number of people who are invested in fostering inclusive spaces for LGBTQ youth brought a smile to my face.
For more information regarding LGBTQ homeless youth read our issue brief: Struggling to Survive: LGBTQ Homeless Youth in the Streets of California.