How Healthier Generation Supports Pride Month

Lauren wearing some snazzy sunglasses on the beach.

It’s our mission to ensure that children are given an equal opportunity to live their healthiest and best lives.

While we have made momentous progress over the past few decades, the challenges LGBTQ youth face remain stark and unsettling. In 2013, Human Rights Campaign reported that, while more than two-thirds of straight youth claim to be happy, only one-third of LGBTQ youth can say the same. LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely as straight youth to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and are often subjected to bullying with fewer means for recourse than their straight peers.

It goes without saying that health and wellness — mentally and physically — are tied to the opportunities or barriers youth face based on how they identify and that many LGBTQ youth face many additional barriers

This Pride month, we reached out to members of our team, asking for advice on being an ally to the LGBTQ community in schools or out-of-school time, as well as personal reflections on their own experiences growing up as youth identifying as LGBTQ. Here’s are some of their empowering words and messages.

Amira wrestles with her cousin.

“Supporting LGBTQ youth is important to me because we can all relate, at some point in our lives, to having felt like we didn’t belong. Some kids experience this every day, and youth development professionals in after school settings are in a unique position to remedy their experience. When even one youth in a program feels alienated, it can be a destabilizing force that ultimately affects everyone’s ability to feel safe and supported in the environment. The Healthy Out-of-School Time movement is about creating opportunities for all youth to live their healthiest lives and the messages we send to uplift and support each other can make individuals, communities, and our entire society feel a profound sense of wellness.

A couple nuggets of inspiration are — sometimes the smallest gestures can be the most meaningful in demonstrating support. It could be a moment of calm within yourself where you’re truly available to listen to someone else’s experience, as a witness and a companion. If you know someone is going through a struggle it can make a huge impact to simply be available — find time to follow up with them and ask how they’re doing with it. Let them know the ways you admire their strength and bravery. We could all use another positive angel on our shoulders.” — Amira Resnick, Healthy Out-of-School Time Manager

“My best piece of advice to any LGBTQ teen would be to know that there is a bigger world out there. High school does not define us, your best years are coming! Life is difficult for all of us and I think a struggle we all have is to learn to love and accept ourselves for who we are no matter what that looks like. We are all born unique and special. Find people who support you for who you are, build up a strong foundation of friends, even if that means just one person at a time.” — Jeannine Rios, Healthy Schools Program Manager

“I think now more than ever, I am realizing the subtle and small things in our schools and programs that may make LBGTQ youth feel unwelcome or unwilling to partake in activities. It is important that as an ally to youth that we are super perceptive to these small things, and that we have the courage to take action and make the changes necessarily to ensure all youth feel included and welcome.” — Ava DeBovis, Healthy Out-of-School Time National Network Manager

Little Daniel gets ready to slide.

“Growing up LGBTQ, physical education class was such a challenge. As a child I was never good at sports. I was bullied and teased for being different so physical education class became my worst nightmare. But, I’ll never forget the day I was playing in a PE basketball game; I could barely dribble the ball, but my teacher told me that I had ‘nice hustle.’ That positive comment has stuck with me ever since. Imagine the innovation we could create if ALL students grew up healthy, loved and included. This Pride Month, what can we collectively do to encourage uniqueness and celebrate differences?”– Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships

“Be yourself and accept others for who they are. Never assume a person’s identity based on how they look, how they act (or how they don’t act), who they spend time with (or who they don’t), or what others say about them (or what others don’t say about them).” — Amanda Green, Healthy Schools and Communities Director

Lauren about to hit the ball in field hockey.

“My allies growing up were my biggest protectors of bullies. I had enough I was struggling with. My youth group adult leaders and my ally friends provided a barrier of supporters allowing me to understand who I was in a safe environment. As a young professional, I was able to provide similar support while I worked with teens experiencing homelessness. Luckily, their friends’ families were their first safety net, after being kicked out of their own homes. They provided much needed shelter and support until social services could provide additional care.

Due to my personal experiences, my mission in life is to support and empower the whole person to be healthy — meaning their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves are embraced and given opportunities to grow and thrive. I believe we need balance in each of these areas of our lives in order to be really, truly healthy and happy. However, for me, and many people I know, religion and our sexuality has been a point of contention.

About seven years ago, my friend and I started a young adult community at our church in Philadelphia, PA. It is an inclusive Catholic community, which is a safe space to grapple with social justice issues within our personal and professional lives and those intersections with our religion. Due to the community’s great success, we leveraged volunteers to start an LGBTQIA Youth Group at LUCY Outreach in Camden, NJ, supporting high-risk youth. Now we are working on a book called Letters from the Margins: To be young, Catholic and Gay. It is a compilation of letters from people within LGBTQIA community, including family and friends, with responses from Catholic leaders to show support, love and acceptance of whom we all are and acknowledge the spaces for forgiveness, reconciliation and growth for this spiritual community.

Each of these commitments are my ways of supporting the LGBTQ community, and the youth who grow up within it. By creating more accepting and inclusive adults, youth will live happier and healthier lives.” — Lauren Puzen, Partnership Manager for Strategic Alliances

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