RI’s LGBTQ Youth At three o’clock in the afternoon, across the street from two of Providence’s largest public high schools, youth begin to flock excitedly into the large space decorated with dazzling unicorns and vibrant rainbows known to many as Youth Pride Inc. (YPI). Here, most visitors range from child to young adult and are either questioning their sexuality, identifying as LGBTQ+, or living in an impoverished or unstable household. They’ll enjoy one another’s company in the brightly painted common area, indulging in delicious snacks. For the youth who spend time at YPI, reality outside of these walls is likely mentally and emotionally taxing. Many are homeless and/or struggling with their newfound identity as LGBTQ+. YPI provides them a safe place to play, reflect, and feel a sense of belonging among youth experiencing a similar reality. Homeless youth most often suffer from three factors: family conflict, residential instability, and economic problems. Many of those visiting YPI experience homelessness due to family conflict and cynical reactions to the expression of their sexual orientation. “Anything to do with poverty – that’s what brings people in our doors,” says Elana Rosenberg, YPI’s executive director. Rosenberg, seated on the organization’s treasured black leather sectional donated by Cardi’s Furniture, expresses how grateful the organization is for the donations of food, clothing, and books provided by the community. These contributions provide YPI with everything a household would need to care for the people in it.
Options | May 2018
For the tweens, teens, and young adults enjoying the communal space at YPI, this is the daily dose of happiness they have waited all day to experience. However, the moments pass at warp speed, and soon it will be eight o’clock, and the doors will close for the night. Contrary to assumptions,YPI services not just LGBTQ youth, but allies too. The doors are open four days a week to all youth, and YPI provides food, counseling sessions, and even dance classes free of charge. “Sometimes people from outside of our doors are under the illusion that you come to YPI to only talk about LGBT stuff, and the truth is you come here, as the person that you are, bringing all the baggage and all the identities that you have with you,” says Rosenberg. “We know that 90% of the population is an ally or has the potential to be an ally, right?” Rosenberg goes on to share YPI’s belief in the importance of encouraging every individual who walks in to be a better ally, despite how they may fit into society. “That’s how we are able to change the environment outside of our doors.” But what happens at 8 o’clock when the doors close and many teens are forced back onto the street or into unloving households? “These aren’t problems with easy solutions, or we wouldn’t need to exist – we wouldn’t still be here after 25 years,” Rosenberg states. Just upstairs from YPI, Justice Gaines, a coordinator at the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), leads programs on Queer Justice and Queer Transformative Roots, which support trans people of color. “There’s a lot of
by Kelsey Sanford
queer young folks of color and just queer folks in general that are homeless … because of their parent situations, or folks who couldn’t stay at home, or could only stay with friends for a certain amount of time,” Gaines states. Coming out often means instantaneous instability. “Especially when it comes to being queer and people of color, we need to recognize the support systems that are needed,” Gaines adds. Beyond the safety of YPI and PrYSM’s walls, another organization works to foster understanding toward LGBTQ people and make better allies out of those close to them. PFLAG is nationally recognized and was created to support the “parents and friends of lesbians and gays.” Newcomers to PFLAG Providence’s monthly meetings consist primarily of parents accompanied by teens. Many seek to educate themselves on how to overcome societal barriers experienced when one identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming. Former longtime president and founder of PFLAG/Greater Providence, Myra Shays, believes it is important for the public to know that the organization supports the LGBTQ community as a whole, not just parents and friends. “PFLAG views the rejection of a child by his/her parents as a tragedy. By helping parents understand and accept their gay, lesbian, and transgender children, we are ensuring those children feelings of worth and value.This enables them to go proudly into the community and forge satisfying lives for themselves,” states Shays. Kelsey Sanford is a student at Rhode Island College studying journalism.