In a time when LGBTQ youth face difficult circumstances, honoring those who stand with them is particularly important.
Sarah Honosky | May 18, 2018
This Saturday, Richmond non-profit Side by Side holds its annual Springtime event, a gala evening celebrating the past year’s accomplishments. At the event, they will also honor the recipients of the Catalyst Awards, recognizing organizations and individuals who have shown extraordinary support for Virginia’s LGBTQ youth. In a year where LGBTQ young people have faced an erratic shifting social and political climate that threatens their very lives, this support is more critical than ever.
“We’re seeing more youth in crisis,” said Ted Lewis, executive director of Side by Side. “I can’t pinpoint exactly where that’s coming from, but I would argue it’s coming from a national dialogue that has gotten more hostile toward LGBTQ people in general, and trickled down to youth in particular.”
In their bi-annual survey of Side by Side’s youth, they found that in 2017 alone, 70 percent of youths who took the survey have seriously considered killing themselves in the last six months, an 11 percent increase from the data of 2016.
“We’re seeing a real increase, unfortunately, in youth being targeted in their schools and in their community,” said Lewis. “We’re seeing more youth come to us that have faced harassment and bullying, more youth who are being disciplined by their school, and they’re coming for a lot more support.”
This paints a bleak landscape, but beneath a dramatically changing national conversation, is a message of hope for all LGBTQ youth. Even as bigotry and prejudice are on an apparent rise, groups like Side by Side are providing more support and safety than ever, with greater resources and recognition.
This year, Side by Side has served a record number of LGBTQ youth, topping over 375 youths in Richmond, Charlottesville, and Petersburg programs. Lewis said that the Tuesday night support group, last year averaging 20-25 individuals, now averages 40-45 youth every week. “What we are most proud of is our ability to continue to meet the needs of a growing population of out and proud LGBT young people and supportive families,” said Lewis.
Among those meeting these needs is the Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, a 2018 Catalyst Recipient. At first glance, it sounds like an anomaly. Faith and sexuality often face tedious intersections, but this honoree proves the capacity for a positive crossroads for LGBTQ indiviuals and a religious organizations.
“Churches have done a great deal of harm to the LGBTQ community. I am constantly aware of that, and sorry,” said Carla Pratt Keyes, a Pastor at Ginter Park Presbyterian. “GPPC is still learning and growing. I’m grateful Side by Side believes we’ve done some good.”
Lewis said that GPPC has been a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community. Volunteers regularly provide meals for Side by Side’s weekly Transgender Support Group and they were this year’s host for the annual youth prom.
“They’ve been a strong voice in the faith community in Richmond, being an advocate and ally for LGBTQ people,” said Lewis. “They’ve done a lot of work to really put themselves apart from some of their peers in terms of being intentionally inclusive and accepting of the community.”
Keyes said that though they lost some members when they began to adopt an ideology of greater inclusivity, the additions to the church they have gained because of this outreach makes them even stronger.
“I guess I feel about the intersection of LGBTQ+ issues and religion as I feel about the intersection of religion with issues around immigration, racism, and poverty: Christians have a lot to learn. We’ve always had a lot to learn – as humans, really,” said Keyes. “GPPC rejoices when the landscape changes…so that more of God’s children feel affirmed, supported, safe, and loved.”
The other recipients of the Catalyst Awards are John Atkins, long time supporter of Richmond’s LGBTQ youth and host of Side by Side’s annual summer pool party, and Big Brothers, Big Sisters, one of nine pilot sites across the country to launch a LGBTQ specific mentorship program, which they carried out in partnership with Side by Side.
The evening will also include a cocktail reception and a silent auction featuring art and vacation homes. It acts as a fundraiser for another year of youth outreach and support, as well as a chance to share highlights of the previous year with community supporters.
Among these highlights is a learning grant Side by Side has received from the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, along with partners at VAVP (The Virginia Anti-Violence Project), Nationz Foundation, and Advocates for Richmond Youth with VCU, to use the year of 2018 to figure out how to create services for LGBTQ young people facing homelessness and housing instability. “Part of what we’re focused on is we want to ensure that LGBT youth are supported, in particular those youth that are most marginalized within our community–youth who have been incarcerated or have been disconnected from their family of origin,” said Lewis.
Springtime, a night celebrating LGBTQ+ youth, will feature cocktails, light refreshments, and a silent auction. It will be held May 19 at the Tuckahoe Woman’s Club at 7 pm. Tickets are $150, and are available here.