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    When 16-year-old Irene Miðdal Konráðdóttir (who uses she/her/hers pronouns) started her freshman year of high school and came out as transgender, she was met with much opposition from loved ones and felt very much alone. While searching for a sense of community, she found the Louisville Youth Group, which provided support, love and a feeling of belonging.
    “LYG made me not feel alone by showing me that there were other trans people in the community who are supportive,” Konráðdóttir said. “Unfortunately, we live in a world where it was really hard for me to find that support without coming to LYG, and when I first started coming I saw that there was a community of people like me.”
    The Louisville Youth Group is a community resource dedicated to providing Louisville-area LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) youth ages 14 through 20 with a safe and supportive environment. LYG started in 1990 and continues its reach through programming organized by the teen members of the organization, said Anna Giangrande, LYG program director.
    “Giving them power to run something in a world where they are bullied and mistreated in school or home, they have one place where they can get a positive atmosphere,” she said. “The youth leadership council meets frequently and have the opportunity to learn what it’s like to run the whole place.”
    Giangrande added that these teens could become the community’s (or the world’s) next leaders, and are learning to act and advocate democratically and diplomatically. During LYG meetings, teens and mentors discuss a wide range of topics like sexually transmitted infections, healthy relationships, fitness, games and even cooking.
    “In a world where they are treated as children without a voice, it’s important for them to have [skills],” Giangrande said. “They will walk away [from LYG] with the skills for the change we need in the community.”
    17-year-old Adam Murphy, vice president of the LYG Youth Leadership Council, said he learned to be himself and love himself after he found LYG through friends.
    “I was raised in a Catholic environment where I wasn’t supposed to be this way…and pray the gay away,” Murphy said. “My dad told me I was not old enough to make that decision [when I came out].”
    As vice president, Murphy helps run meetings and ensures transparency and accountability within the organization. “If we notice that someone is looking ‘down,’ a Youth Leadership Council mentor will come talk to them and see how they’re doing. We have to report any mentions of self-harm.”
    In grades 7 through 12, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were found more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers, according to a study conducted by the Center for Disease control conducted between 2001 and 2009.
    “More studies are needed to better understand the risks for suicide among transgender youth. However, one study with 55 transgender youth found that about 25 percent reported suicide attempts,” the study said.
    In recent years, LYG has been focusing on helping trans youth. “Something wonderful that they have been doing is that they have started a trans clothing closet,” Giangrande said. “Our trans youth can get a whole new wardrobe that isn’t always affordable.” The Trans Affirmation Fund allows someone to apply once a year for up to $40 for anything they need to help their transition. The Youth Leadership Council runs this through their budget along with fundraisers.
    Since the age range of LYG members range between 13 - 20, many alumni become mentors who help guide younger LYG members and volunteer. While LYG remains youth-oriented, it also helps find resources for parents.
    “There are ones that are very excited for their youth who have found a place to come out, but you have ones that are unsure and need reassurance and guidance,” Giangrande said. “But once we had someone’s grandparents waiting for a child, and that child told me, ‘No, they actually think they are outside supporting me while I’m in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting,’” Giangrande said. “I guess being gay was worse than being an alcoholic to them.”
    While LYG offers a sense of community for teens, a partner of LYG, YMCA Safe Place Services, offers Safety Shelter and Support counseling. Not only does Safe Place offer help to LGBTQI youth, but also they support all youth, said Brian Wilson, community outreach specialist for Safe Place.
    “We do not discriminate against race, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, social economics or geography,” he said. “We understand if you are a youth in crisis and that is the main reason we have our services.”
    Safe Place recognizes crises are varied. Forty percent of homeless youth is of sexual or gender minority, Wilson said. “They fear disclosing the information so they run away,” Wilson said. “Some are abused because of it and some have the feeling they will not be supported because of it and the home environment is hostile based on assumptions.”
    Homophobia is the root cause of youth homelessness as it related to those living with a sexual and gender minority, he added. Within 48 hours of a youth being homeless, they become more susceptible to violence and drug (Human) trafficking, Wilson said. “We have zero tolerance for bullying and we allow that young person to feel that they are truly in a safe place.”
    Safe Place Services is considered a mandatory reporter organization. If they are aware of any sexual or physical abuse of any youth or adult, they report it to Child Protective Services. The youth shelter at Safe Place is for ages 12 to 17 years old and the maximum stay is 21 days average, Wilson said. It really depends on the circumstance. “A young person has to choose to stay here. If there is a family who has kicked their kid out, absolutely that young person is encouraged to seek out Safe Place Services, he said. “They can hop on TARC and take them to Safe Place.
    Because Safe Place Services uses a family unification approach, when a young person arrives, their parent or legal guardian will be contacted and informed of the young person’s situation. The parents have to come sign for consent within 72 hours or a neglect charge will be filed. Most parents are really on board with that.
    Safe Place offers a service of family-team meetings.
    “You can look at it like a mini court,” Wilson said. “It’s a way that we understand the youth’s story, the parent story and somewhere in the middle is the truth. Not all families have learned to engage with one another in positive ways so Safe Place staff facilitates the meetings.” Safe place also offers free condoms and sexual education for anyone staying with them.
    Between both LYG and Safe Place, Louisville offers LGBTQI youth a sense of community and belonging.
    “It is so important to never let them feel alone,” Giangrande said.
    Cover Image: Vectorstock
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