Elevating Voices: Our Interview with JASMYN’s Angela Strain

When you visit Angela Strain’s bio on the JASMYN website you are greeted with this quote: “It is a tremendous honor to work side by side with these professionals and volunteers that JASMYN has assembled to help LGBTQ youth find their way in a challenging world, and to help build the world of the future that they will inherit.”

It’s a powerful quote that so beautifully sums up the work of JASMYN, a Jacksonville agency that supports and empowers LGBTQ young people, as well as the work Angela is doing as their Director of Development. She would be the first to tell you that it’s not just about young people feeling they are valued and loved just as they are, but it’s about families hearing this message as well.  “They’re not only OK as they are, but this city, this community, values, needs and loves them,” said Angela in a recent interview with FOLIO Weekly.

Below is an excerpt from our own interview with Angela Strain, giving us insight into the challenges LGBTQ youth face and what adults can do to help them feel safe, nurtured and valued.

 

GenW:  Why was JASMYN created and what is your overall mission?

AS: Founded in 1994, JASMYN supports and empowers LGBTQ young people by creating safe space, providing health and wholeness services, and offering youth development opportunities, while bringing people and resources together to promote equality and human rights. It started when a young person found themselves struggling in the process of coming out, and put up a request for support on a bulletin board. A group of caring adults – our current CEO among them – answered the call, and began offering support groups in libraries around the city. Today, our campus includes support groups as well as a food & hygiene pantry, a David Bohnett CyberCenter, a Sexual Health Clinic, and so much more. Through 2018, JASMYN’s Board of Directors has identified the following strategic priorities: Expand access to medical care, mental health services, and housing; Deepen the HIV prevention and HIV/AIDS support services offered; Elevate equality education and advocacy for human rights.

GenW: What are some of the biggest challenges faced by youth today who identify as LGBTQ+?

AS: Family rejection, bullying by schoolmates and adults on school campuses, and, especially for our Trans youth, a lack of pathways to employment are some of the underlying traumas that lead to the risks that put youth in harm’s way for the long term. LGBTQ young people are over-represented in counts of homeless youth and youth aging out of foster care. National studies show 25 – 40% of youth who become homeless each year are LGBTQ youth, while in Jacksonville, 60% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. LGBTQ youth who are rejected by their families for their orientation or gender identity are very high risk for homelessness, suicide, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted infections. At JASMYN, at least 20% of the 645 young adults served last year are homeless or living in unstable and unsafe places. Jacksonville remains in the top ten cities in the U.S. with the highest rates of new HIV infection – and young people are squarely in the crosshairs of this epidemic.

GenW: Those statistics are startling.  What would happen if communities truly embraced diversity and inclusion and made it a priority to create and safe and nurturing environments for our youth?

AS: Creating safe space for youth and young adults in our community is just the first step in helping to achieve our vision: that LGBTQ young people are affirmed in their identities, confident in their futures, and are a valued asset to the Northeast Florida community. Coming out shouldn’t mean losing one’s family, one’s faith community, one’s ability to pursue meaningful education, or to grow into a career in one’s chosen field of endeavor. When we say as a community that we value diversity and inclusion, we make it possible for this generation to achieve its potential. Seeing adults, especially leaders in our civic institutions, affirm that LGBTQ+ folks are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities of every other member of the community underscores the value that JASMYN and others place in these youth, and lets them lift their heads to see a brighter future, not just the challenge of getting through today. It is life-saving and it is critical.

GenW: That last statement–“it is life-saving and it is critical”–is so powerful. What can adults do to better support the youth in their communities—specifically those youth who identify as LGBTQ?

AS: Be the safe adult that honors and respects the orientation and identity of every person, and recognizes that young people are on a journey. Remain open even when terms or language or situations are unfamiliar – we are learning more about identity and the spectrum of expression every single day. If you’re a hiring manager, think beyond the forms and checkboxes and see how you can truly offer a hand up in the workplace. Stay informed about local ordinances, state laws, and national initiatives that impact youth. Know where the safe spaces are in town, and be ready to share with your friends and peers, especially parents who may be struggling. Talk about LGBTQ+ youth everywhere – at work, at church, in the PTA, and in the grocery line! Your voice will reach folks who haven’t ever thought about the issues right here in Jacksonville. Recognize that there really are no “other people’s children” – LGBTQ+ youth need all of us.

GenW: What new things are happening with JASMYN and how can others get involved?

AS: So many exciting things are happening! In February 2017, JASMYN announced a partnership with Youth Crisis Center and Changing Homelessness, Inc. to collaborate in the creation of a system of care for homeless LGBTQ youth, including the delivery and implementation of outreach, Safety Net Drop in Services, coordinated intake, wrap around linkage / case management services, and the provision of Transitional Age Youth Emergency Housing Services for LGBTQ homeless youth, ages 18 – 24. JASMYN has been providing case management services to homeless youth and those aging out of foster care since 2003. In this new program, JASMYN will provide primary case management support for youth accessing YCC’s new emergency shelter program for youth 18-24 on their campus. While the majority of these youth are expected to be LGBTQ, the services will be open to all youth in this age range who are homeless. The partnership with YCC and Changing Homelessness will help leverage additional resources to secure stable and supportive housing for these young people. The common long-term goal of the new collaboration is a reduction in chronic homelessness, and an aim to reduce functional youth homelessness to zero by 2020.

An architect has been selected to renovate the building on our campus that will serve as our Safety Net Resource Center, which will include space for private counseling / meetings with case managers, a kitchen for hot meal service, private showers and laundry suites, mail boxes, secure document storage, room for training, convening, and other programs, and so much more. We are hoping the community will want to get involved, too! Your time, treasure or talent will help ensure that LGBT or Questioning young people are not alone. With your help, they’ll have a safe place to go, affirming people to talk to, friends that understand, and they will receive critical services for their long-term health and wholeness. Visit: jasmyn.org