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Working with LGBTQQ Youth in Rural Vermont

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The mission of Outright Vermont is to build safe, healthy, and supportive environments for LGBTQQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning) youth, ages 13-22. Since 1989, Outright has worked to provide safety and support for LGBTQQ youth, helped make schools more inclusive, and focused on youth empowerment, leadership, and advocacy.  Outright works with nearly 5,000 youth annually, is the oldest LGBTQQ youth serving organization in the state of Vermont, and is one of the few remaining free-standing LGBTQQ youth centers nationwide.

Outright does a lot of work in Vermont’s schools. We travel around the state, educating teachers, staff, and students at elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and colleges. We offer a variety of presentations, including Ally Development for Adults Working with LGBTQQ Youth, Anti-Harassment Training, LGBTQQ 101, and Trans* 101. This year, Outright is training a core group of high school aged youth to be Peer Educators. The Peer Educators will deliver their own version of our education work in middle schools in the spring of 2014. In addition, youth set Outright’s priorities for the year and one of their priorities for the 2013-2014 school year is more education for teachers.

Why is this work important? The 2011 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that, statewide, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have been bullied in the past 30 days more than twice as much as their heterosexual peers (46% vs. 18%). LGBTQQ youth also experience disproportionate rates of violence and are more at risk for substance abuse and suicidal ideation. Nationwide, LGBTQQ youth are four times more likely to consider or attempt suicide (eight times more likely if they come from rejecting families) and are eight times more likely to experience homelessness than their heterosexual peers. The presence of one supportive adult in the life of an LGBTQQ youth can decrease their risk of suicide by 40%. In VT, LGBTQQ youth feel isolated, lack role models, and often lack identifiable community.

Outright worked in collaboration with the Department of Justice on a three year project designed to reduce bullying and harassment in Vermont’s most rural communities. We worked with high school students in Bennington, Caledonia, Essex, Lamoille, Orange, Orleans, Windham, and Windsor counties. Activities included increasing support to LGBTQQ identified students, identifying and training supportive faculty and staff, expanding the network of Gay-Straight Alliances and support services to maintain them, and providing anti-bullying training, resources, and support to students and school personnel.

Some of the feedback Outright received:

“Outright’s visits to our school and support have helped to educate staff and students about issues that directly affect our community on a daily basis. Outright’s work has helped to foster an open and honest dialogue at our school, creating a more supportive learning environment for all staff and students.”

"I am leaving excited to educate my school community."

The project was a huge success but not without challenges. While Vermont is a very progressive state, there are still pockets where it’s difficult to convince schools that they should be talking about these issues and offering support to LGBTQQ students. This posed some challenges, and we weren’t able to get in to every school in the project area.  By making close community connections, being persistent, finding allies, and utilizing the power of word of mouth, we were still extraordinarily successful. With the support of the Department of Justice, we have made Vermont a safer place for LGBTQQ youth.