Every year, millions of people honor June as Pride Month, commemorating the 1969 Stonewall Riots and the LGBTQIA+ community’s history and progress on civil rights issues. During Pride Month, we come together to reflect, celebrate progress, and advocate on the issues still facing the LGBTQIA+ community. While support and acceptance of people who identify as LGBTQIA+ has grown in recent years, we still have a long way to go to ensure equality for all. Advocates and allies like you can help drive that progress.
Growing up, I faced challenges and discrimination that made me think I wasn’t qualified to be a leader. I hadn’t been exposed to strong, openly gay leaders so I assumed there weren’t any. Today, I’m glad to know this is far from true. A big part of my self-acceptance journey is rooted in my Club experience. One of the first people I came out to was at my local Boys & Girls Club, a place where I knew and felt that being my authentic self didn’t disqualify me from anything. I could be genuinely accepted by the people who are important to me and pursue my passions of civic activism and community building.
Today, as the voice of more than 4.3 million young people, it’s my responsibility to be honest and transparent about my identity, my leadership journey, and my commitment to advocating for the needs of LGBTQIA+ youth. I also know now that my identity is something to celebrate, not hide.
We need advocates and allies who support and welcome all people regardless of who they love, where they come from, or the circumstances they’ve faced. We must constantly affirm and amplify the need for inclusive environments that support members of the LGBTQIA+ community-- especially our Club youth.
Recognizing that there’s no single “right” reason to be an ally or an advocate, here are some reminders of why your support is as needed now as ever.
- Everyone deserves to feel physically and emotionally safe.
Clubs work hard every day to build spaces where young people can feel safe, both physically and emotionally. Before youth can build the social, emotional, and leadership skills they need for great futures, they need a safe, inclusive, welcoming environment where they experience a sense of belonging. Boys & Girls Clubs equip local Club leaders and staff with the tools they need to create a safe and supportive atmosphere not only for LGBTQIA+ youth, but for all young people.
And, research shows that when caring mentors create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQIA+ youth and teens, social and emotional safety is elevated for all young people.
- LGBTQIA+ youth may face unique challenges.
You may already know that young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are twice as likely to have been verbally assaulted, bullied or physically assaulted at school, according to national surveys. LGBTQIA+ youth are also twice as likely to have been excluded by their peers because they are “different.”
Those experiences can have dire consequences: statistically, LGBTQIA+ youth have lower GPAs and are more likely than their peers to drop out of high school; they are at greater risk of both substance abuse and suicide; they are also more likely to experience homelessness. The good news is that research shows that having even one space in which they feel included and supported can make a huge difference, mitigating these risks for LGBTQ youth.
Research shows that when a supportive adult advocates on a youth’s behalf and supports their identity, that young person is protected against many negative outcomes such as depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. Additionally, a sense of belonging leads to significantly higher levels of self-esteem and perceived social support.
- Representation matters.
Young people thrive when they have mentors and role models with whom they can identify.
National surveys indicate that LGBTQIA+ youth are twice as likely to have been verbally assaulted, bullied or physically assaulted at school. LGBTQIA+ youth are also twice as likely to have been excluded from their peers because they are different. LGBTQIA+ youth of color experience an even harsher climate in which their sexual identity, gender expression and ethnicity are consistently under attack.
When everyone has a seat at the table, we all benefit from the creativity, innovation, and passion that result from a bigger, more diverse talent pool. Studies have also suggested that companies that prioritize ethnic and racial diversity may rake in higher financial earnings, suggesting that practicing inclusion of all people is good for business, too.
This Pride Month, I’ve been empowered to be myself thanks, in part, to my strong and accepting support network. The safe, positive, supportive space that my Boys & Girls Club created changed my life.
In honor of Pride Month and Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s commitment to proving a safe place for all youth, I’m calling on you to ensure the LGBTQIA+ youth in your life have access to the same inclusive, affirming environments.
To learn more about Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s LGBTQ initiative, please visit bgca.org/lgbtq or contact us at email@example.com.