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Lawrence Hall's one-man department for LGBTQ youth
by lisa rock
2008-09-01

This article shared 6987 times since Mon Sep 1, 2008
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by LIZ GRANGER

Last year, Lawrence Hall Youth Services received a $75,000 grant from the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. With the funding, Lawrence Hall started its LGBTQ program. The program offers support for LGBTQ youth, trainings for staff at Lawrence Hall and various workshops and forums.

Through a series of seminars, the Lawrence Hall LGBTQ program aims to create a sense of community. Youths have met at career breakfasts; a get-to-know-you lunch at Wishbone; a voter registration drive; and a workshop about sexuality, spirituality and religion, along with other events. They also met at a makeup application seminar last winter ( 'R U The Au Naturale Beauty Or The Diva In Painted Face?' ) .

Robert White, a local makeup artist, conducted the workshop. White works for Linda Johnson Rice at Ebony Magazine, and he's worked in film and with celebrities.

'This was a way to help promote diversity in relationships, and self-esteem,' said Kevin Pleasant, LGBTQ and diversity coordinator for Lawrence Hall. ' [ The workshop ] was intended for our trans residents, but female and male residents who wear makeup also participated. We had fun.'

Pleasant is in charge of a one-man department—he is the department—that coordinates LGBTQ activities for Lawrence Hall, a child-welfare agency that cares for about 1,100 children in its school, residences or other programs. The seminar provided another way for Pleasant to promote unity.

'I was at that workshop watching the room divided—heterosexual females over here, trans girls over here, boys scattered on the other side. I watched the heterosexual girls laugh and whisper about the trans girls,' Pleasant said. 'After the end of these three sessions, I saw people exchanging numbers, laughing and talking, building relationships with people they probably would have continued to ridicule.'

The United Way grant allowed Pleasant to expand a program he founded: Free 2 B Me, a support group for LGBTQ youth. Pleasant says that the grant 'officially started' Lawrence Hall's LGBTQ program, allowing Free 2 BeMe to become one element under an umbrella of services.

Now, Lawrence Hall does a six-month training facilitated by Live Oaks where some of the staff become trainers on LGBT issues. In July, they also got funding to do peer-mentor trainings for their youth, in the form of a $55,000 grant from the Polk Brothers Foundation. The United Way grant expired in December.

Last year, Pleasant was able to host a number of events for the LGBTQ program: career breakfasts; a get-to-know-you lunch; a voter registration drive; and a workshop about sexuality, spirituality and religion, along with other meetings and discussions.

Coming up, youths can expect a 'Power of Voting Forum' hosted by Rick Garcia from Equality Illinois Sept. 10. Pleasant also has plans for a 'Let's Talk About Sex Forum,' a workshop about STD/HIV awareness and prevention. There will be participants from the University of Chicago, and a mobile van providing STD testing to Lawrence Hall youths.

Pleasant came to Lawrence Hall in 2004. He got the idea for LGBTQ services from Karen Jackson, a manager for the center's residential program. Jackson realized that Lawrence Hall's LGBTQ youth had an extended set of needs that needed to be addressed. Youths needed support when they were thinking about coming out, a safe space to discuss identity issues, specialized healthcare and a sense of community.

Pleasant is big on building community.

'When you say 'LGBT' in Chicago, people say, 'North Side. Halsted Street,'' Pleasant said. 'Not everyone can afford to live in this gay-identified community on the North Side. They can't do it. Where do I go on the South Side, or the West Side or the suburbs? If I am being harassed, who do I call? Where is the closest police station? Where is the closest emergency room? Where do I go for eye exams? Where do I go for educational support?'

Pleasant took his youths to Wishbone Restaurant, 3300 N. Lincoln, for the get-to-know-you lunch because he wanted them to learn about safe, supportive resourcces outside of Boystown. For Pleasant, 'Halsted is just an easy pitch.'

Pleasant keeps the LGBTQ/Diversity Resource Library in his office. It takes the form of two cases full of books, periodicals and DVDs about being 'straight, gay, Black, white—whatever you are.' He's just ordered about 50 more books and movies.

Working as a one-man department, Pleasant makes himself available to students all day. Some students call him late Saturday nights when they have a problem.

'It's not about me,' Pleasant said. 'We talk about pitching and choosing our battles, but I don't have that luxury. When I go home at night, I go home to a partner who loves and adores me, food in my refrigerator, a roof over my head, and maybe five dollars in the bank to do whatever I want with. These youths don't have that, so I have to fight the battles that they put before me. If I pick and choose, they lose.'

For more information on Lawrence Hall Youth Services, 4833 N. Francisco, see www.lawrencehall.org or call 773-769-3500.


This article shared 6987 times since Mon Sep 1, 2008
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