Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Hard Conversation That Is Making a Real Difference for LGBT Youth

This last Friday MDHA presented its second installment in its series titled Hard Conversations. As Cindy Crain, MDHA’s President and CEO, explained it is part of MDHA’s role to facilitate conversations on difficult issues, and bring these to the forefront. For this session, MDHA’s co-sponsor was Transpride Initiative.

In this session, titled “One Organization's Journey Toward LGBT Competency”, Dr. Sean Allen and Alan Schonborn of ACH Child and Family Services in Fort Worth described the process their organization has been going through since they discovered in 2012, that the word on the street was that they were not a safe place for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender youth. They wanted to be a safe and welcoming place for all homeless and runaway youth, so they began a hard conversation, first amongst their staff, and then involving all other relevant stakeholders. They took a long hard look at themselves as an organization, reviewed the research, and initiated a change process that shifted their culture from one of LGBT-rejection to one of LGBT-acceptance. Allen and Schonborn were extremely frank about the fact that though they had had some great successes, there still was work to be done.

Dr. Sean Alllen (Courtesy of Bill Zeeble, KERA)
Perhaps the key takeaway was that many obstacles may be overcome in this process, if the focus is on outcomes. They shared cutting edge research from Dr. Caitlin Ryan and her colleagues at the Family Acceptance Project, that has guided and continues to guide ACH in their process. This research, “has linked health, mental health and well-being – including risk for suicide, substance abuse and HIV, and positive outcomes such as self-esteem – to behaviors that parents and caregivers use to express acceptance and rejection of their children’s LGBT identity.” Allen shared key facts from this research about how rates of suicide, substance abuse and HIV drastically drop, if families and caregivers eliminate rejecting behaviors, and accept youth for who they are. Since these are desired results for families and caregivers, regardless of personal beliefs regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, this focus has greatly helped ACH make progress, and Allen feels this would be key for any other organization embarking on a similar journey.

You may listen to and/or read an excellent piece about this session, by our friend, Bill Zeeble, on the KERA website:  How A Fort Worth Homeless Shelter Changed To Help LGBT Teens

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