LGBTQ youth need our support 

In threatening national climate, state grant program is a lifeline for vulnerable group 

GROWING UP AS an “out” teen on Cape Cod, there was no gay/straight alliance at my high school and the nearest LGBTQ youth resource was nearly an hour drive away. I was lucky to have a supportive family and openly gay adult role models to ease my transition to adulthood.

Far too many young people are less fortunate. While Massachusetts has long proclaimed itself a leader on LGBTQ issues, the state budget tells a more nuanced tale. As the Legislature considers a nearly $40 billion budget for fiscal year 2018 and the public focuses on major spending items, several expenditures that are critical to the survival and success of LGBTQ youth remain overlooked.

The Department of Public Health’s Youth-at-Risk program is one such funding stream that historically has funded essential programming for LGBTQ youth and other under-resourced communities.

For years, the Youth-at-Risk Grant program has enabled 36 community-based organizations to fund interventions related to violence prevention, positive youth development, healthy relationships, and skill-building for LGBTQ young people and other vulnerable youth.

Last year, the state Legislature cut funding for these programs — a cut that unfortunately coincided with the horrific Orlando nightclub massacre targeting Latino LGBTQ people, many of them young people. The impact was devastating.

As organizations did their best to support LGBTQ young people mourning the attack on their community, they struggled to survive these budget cuts. The Hispanic Black Gay Coalition lost office space and had to end a mentorship program for LGBTQ students with the Multicultural AIDS Coalition.

The Theater Offensive in Boston, despite high demand for programming and recognition by Michelle Obama, lost resources used to support vulnerable young people’s participation in a program that empowers LGBTQ youth to tell their stories through theater.

If funding is not restored in this year’s budget, further losses to programs are on the horizon.

Nearly 5,000 LGBTQ youth across the Commonwealth are in peril of losing critically important training and resource development provided by the Boston Alliance of LGBTQ Youth to promote healthy relationships and combat intimate partner violence among young people of all our communities.

We have an opportunity to prevent these losses. I have filed two amendments to the budget that aim to stem this devastating trend. Amendments 550 and 551 would restore funding to vital youth programs previously funded at $1.8 million and would designate $500,000 for programs that disproportionately serve LGBTQ youth.

If you want to be a part of the effort to provide LGBTQ youth with the support and programs they deserve, call your legislator to request their support for these amendments.

Despite amplified attention in recent years, trends in suicide and bullying demonstrate the continued importance of programs for LGBTQ youth. According to the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 40 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and more than one in four reported school bullying.

Less known disparities are equally as disturbing. State data show that LGBTQ youth are seven times as likely as their classmates to report heroin use, three times as likely to experience sexual contact against their will, and twice as likely to have carried a weapon to school in the past month.

Contrary to popular perception of Massachusetts as a safe haven, the lived experiences of LGBTQ young people continue to be marked by the threat of violence. Indeed, a Boston Globe story in March noted that a whopping one-third of all hate crimes and bigoted actions reported in Boston in 2016 targeted LGBTQ people, with 2017 trends appearing similar.

In the face of such risks, the LGBTQ youth programming funded through the Youth at Risk Grant program is quite literally a lifeline.

Cutting funding for youth violence prevention programs is ineffective from a fiscal standpoint, since youth violence carries long-term financial costs to the public. An analysis from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy examined a variety of evidence-based youth violence prevention programs and found that every $1 invested resulted in cost savings of between $2.73 and $84.63.

More importantly, cuts to these programs are in direct opposition to the Commonwealth’s commitment to support LGBTQ and other underserved youth in Massachusetts. As ugly debates about the dignity of LGBTQ people, immigrants, people of color, and religious minorities continue to swirl at the national level, Massachusetts must send a clear message affirming our belief in the potential of marginalized youth.

Meet the Author

Julian Cyr

State Senator, Massachusetts Senate
Funding the programs that support all youth in growing to be engaged and confident leaders is one way to start.

Julian Cyr, a Democrat from Truro, represents the Cape and Islands District in the Massachusetts Senate. Prior to his election, he served as the director of policy and regulatory affairs for environmental health at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and from 2011 until 2017, he served on the Massachusetts Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) Youth, including as chair in 2013 and 2014.