Pride month at Latin American Youth Center began with a shared feeling of excitement. Staff and youth celebrated their own unique identities and engaged in significant conversations about creating more welcoming environments for all young people.
In preparation, LAYC’s Safer Space Committee hung Pride-themed flags and streamers throughout the Kaplan Building, our site in DC.
“I think that by being around the decorations, and being reminded every time they come into LAYC, staff and youth can see that we do have Pride month, we are celebrating, and that this is a place for LGBTQ+ youth too,” explains Health Promotion Program Manager George Garcia.
Young people from LAYC’s STRIPES, an LGBTQ+ youth and allies program, organized a Pride event, “Planet Queer.” The event was open to all youth who frequent LAYC’s Teen Center for summer programming. STRIPES youth transformed the Teen Center into a dance hall with workshops such as a Pride button-making station, a glitter beard table, and voguing lessons.
Later in June, the mood of LAYC and the surrounding community shifted to sadness and grief. Our staff and youth learned about the death of 23-year-old Zoe Spears, a young transgender woman who had found support and community at LAYC’s Drop-In Center. Zoe was the tenth black transgender woman in the US to be killed this year, and the second black transgender woman in the DC area killed since March 2019.
For the all of the young people using LAYC’s Drop-In Center, education, employment, and housing are three key challenges that can stand between young people and moving forward in life. LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately represented in the homeless services system. A young person might leave or be forced out of their home, and have trouble finding work, which can hinder the ability to make progress in other areas of their lives.
Drop-In Center manager Diana Martinez explains: “A trans person might say, ‘I can’t even look at my ID because it has my birth given name, and not the name I think I should have.’ And so starting the process of a name change, getting birth certificates when your family hasn’t talked to you in years, and figuring out where to live, that is a process that will hold somebody back more than three months. Our youth don’t have that kind of time while they’re living on the streets or in a shelter.”
Zoe was skilled at advocating for herself, according to Drop-In Center staff. She secured an apartment through a competitive housing program. But not every young person who comes into the Drop-In Center is ready to figure out the resources they need, and seek them out in the community.
“We pride ourselves at the Drop-In Center about being a low-barrier program, in that we don’t require youth to do anything except follow the rules of being a human, and be kind to each other in this space,” says Martinez.
Despite the very challenging circumstances that might lead a LGBTQ+ youth to the Drop-In Center, many young people are often able to build and maintain meaningful relationships that help them navigate daily challenges. Martinez says, “There’s a sense of community. You think you’re in this difficult situation and you’re the only person going through it, but then you come here and meet other people who are also going through it.”