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Suburban group provides support to LGBTQ youth
by Steven Chaitman
2011-12-21

This article shared 3214 times since Wed Dec 21, 2011
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Outside of Chicago and in the more rural and conservative communities, the resources for LGBTQ youth grow more and more scarce. Since 1996, Youth Outlook has been a major community partner in DuPage, Kane and DeKalb counties as the only organization solely dedicated to serving LGBTQ youth.

Known as the Questioning Youth Center up until fall 2008, Youth Outlook primarily offers drop-in programming one night a week in the major areas it services. Currently, drop-in programs occur in DeKalb on Monday nights; Naperville on Tuesday nights; and Aurora and Sterling on Thursday nights. A transgender youth program called Transcend takes place once a month.

Youth Outlook has also become increasingly involved in area schools. They regularly reach out to gay-straight alliances (GSAs) to get the word out, particularly to those who are busy after school, don't have the means to get to drop-ins or simply haven't come out yet.

In the last year and a half, Youth Outlook has worked even more closely with school districts to provide education around LGBTQ youth issues to both students and faculty. At present, they are working with middle schools for the very first time to create GSAs for their students.

Executive Director Nancy Mullen said, "In the past, middle schools haven't felt the need to address this issue, but now that kids are coming out younger they are rallying behind students who have made steps to come out."

Mullen is Youth Outlook's only full-time staff member. She works with a handful of part-time staff and a couple interns; the rest is accomplished with the help of more than 40 volunteers each month.

Nick Kinner, 21, is a former teen participant who has now become one of Youth Outlook's many vital and enthusiastic volunteers. He mostly runs programs and attends occasional speaking engagements. Kinner became involved in 2005 when Outlook came to speak to his school's GSA; he had come out as trans at the age of 12 and was looking for more support.

"People tend to focus on sexual orientation instead of gender identity, so going to that group and hearing Youth Outlook, I realized I still needed support," Kinner said. "A lot of kids were great and we talked about lot of topics, things I would not have gotten through GSA or school at the time."

Kinner says he was one of two transgender teens involved in the organization when he was involved as a participant. Now the Naperville group alone has 10.

With youth ranging across the LGBTQ spectrum and also the economic spectrum, Youth Outlook is tasked with serving a range of needs.

"The challenging part is trying to find programming that interests all sets of people," Mullen said. "We have youth coming out of affluent communities versus the farming communities and their interests and expectations about Outlook can be vastly different."

Sometimes it's just a chance to relax and be one's self, but many drop-in programs tackle LGBTQ issues. This past year (and recently renewed for 2012), the organization received funding from the Elton John AIDS Foundation to run an HIV prevention program to be implemented by the youth themselves. Mullen said it's important that Youth Outlook be about, for and by the youth.

"Youth get excited about any opportunity to get involved in something that gives them additional knowledge that their friends don't have," she said.

The decision to change from the Questioning Youth Center to Youth Outlook occurred in a similar fashion. Focus groups had revealed the splits between out and proud teens and those who had not yet come out, and some confusion existed over whether QYC stood for "Questioning" or "Queer" Youth Center. The participants, staff and Board of Directors all settled on a name that encompassed all LGBTQ youth while emphasizing the youth-driven nature of the organization.

"Until the point comes when all of our youth are safe, we need to take steps to protect them," Mullen said.

School districts such as District 428 in DeKalb have realized the need to make their schools safer for LGBTQ students. Mullen and Youth Outlook worked with the district to create and implement parent education and staff training programs with added emphasis on the middle schools. This included training for school athletics coaches, tips for working with diverse families and having PFLAG as a resource at parent-teacher conference nights.

District 428 Assistant Superintendent Lindsey Hall said that there were virtually no roadblocks to implementing the programming and stressed that it comes from the top down.

"There has to be leadership to say this issue is important enough to talk about and that happened here," Hall said. "We feel so lucky to work with Nancy and her willingness to come in and be so available as a resource. This happened because Youth Outlook is so available."

Youth Outlook hopes to increase its reach and visibility in the community. Short-term, plans to reopen the Geneva drop-in are in place for after the first of the year.

For more information on Youth Outlook, visit youth-outlook.org/cms.


This article shared 3214 times since Wed Dec 21, 2011
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