Our theme for September is LGBT youth & safe schools. Thanks for reading!
On the last day of this hot July I met with Marvin Henchbarger at a local Greek restaurant. She is the leader of Gay and Lesbian Youth Services (GLYS), a local organization that serves the needs of gay and lesbian youth in Western New York. Since her tenure the organization has grown to serve many Gay Straight Alliances in local schools.
They do outreach in a variety of venues. Each year they sponsor a huge fundraiser. Many prominent politicians and gay and straight activists attend. Not only does it raise needed funds to supplement their grants, but it spreads the word about the needs of LGBT youth.
Marvin has been involved in gay rights issues for decades.
In her work with GLYS she has seen many changes. Yet, despite the recent Supreme Court decision affirming the rights of marriage, she does not feel the full inclusion of gay people is achieved. She clearly states, “Legislative achievements do not translate into support.” In fact she sees more religious discrimination, which translates into problems for gay family members. As she explains it, some churches do not have another target to label as evil, so LGBT people become the new enemy. Consequently, that has a negative impact on gay kids.
Though more LGBT folks are visible nowadays, Marvin suspects the backlash is greater. That makes it even harder for LGBT kids. With the ubiquity of the Internet, anonymous hate comments are easily made and easily read. So kids are even more fearful. Because of the problems gay youth encounter, GLYS does outreach with a psychiatric center at a local hospital as well as other facilities for troubled youth. In these venues they find there are many LGBT kids.
Under her administration there have been many achievements. With the support of GLYS there are now 48 high schools in the greater Western New York area that have functioning Gay Straight Alliances. In addition to supporting these clubs, they have sponsored a GSA conference for the past two years. This year there will be two conferences, one in the northern area of the county and one in the southern portion. For the past three years they have hosted a diversity prom. This past June over 200 young people attended. (In fact Dad and I will chaperone the next prom in June of 2016.)
While these accomplishments have great merit, Marvin is troubled. We talked about how every other group’s efforts to achieve justice has met with continuing problems along the way. Two that quickly some to mind are the Civil Rights movement, and the women’s movement. Just a quick perusal of the news proves that African-Americans are still vulnerable. There seems to be a killing of a young black person every week. Abortion rights for women are becoming more limited with the regular assaults on clinics and on Planned Parenthood. We do not need to look far to see that while achievements can and must be celebrated, we cannot rest too long because the forces against these gains are deep.
Thanks goodness people like Marvin keeping fighting in our community. I know you and Lisa are doing good work in your Seattle area with workshops for prospective teachers to alert them to the issues of gay kids. Discrimination does not disappear easily. We need to keep talking about these issues and working against bigotry in all its forms.