L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center wins $13M grant to help foster youths

LOS ANGELES — The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center has been awarded a landmark $13.3 million, five-year grant from the federal Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Administration on Children, Youth and Families to create a model program that will provide life-saving support for LGBTQ youths in the foster care system.

Following a highly competitive review process, six grants were awarded — the center’s grant is the only one specifically to support LGBTQ youth and the only grant that did not go to a government agency or academic institution. It’s also the largest federal grant ever awarded to an LGBT organization.

The need for services for LGBT youth in foster care is dire. According to a 2001 (Feinstein) study, 78% of LGBTQ foster youth were forced to leave their foster placements due to hostility related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In a 2001 study from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, 70% reported physical violence and 100% reported harassment in their group home. Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS), the only group home for LGBTQ foster youth in Los Angeles, closed its doors in 2008 (with its displaced residents turning to the Center for much-needed support).

“LGBTQ youth who aren’t living on the streets because of a hostile home environment are often in the foster care system,” said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive officer of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

“Many are rejected by foster parents and move from home to home or are considered unadoptable and live in overburdened group homes. In either case, they’re more likely to turn to drugs and crime, engage in unprotected sex, or commit suicide — and when they age out of the system at 18, they’re coming to us homeless. This landmark grant will fund the development of a much-needed, model program to protect the health and well-being of LGBTQ foster youth — a program that will save lives, save taxpayer dollars, and could be replicated in cities around the country.”

By developing and leading a 19 organization collaborative that will include foster care agencies, researchers and government departments, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center will create a comprehensive system of care to help LGBTQ youth stay in school, and in homes where they feel safe and welcomed, until adulthood. The collaborative will include: foster care agencies, researchers, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Los Angeles Unified School District and government agencies, including: Los Angeles County’s departments of Children and Family Services, Mental Health, Probation and Juvenile Court.

“The public systems across the country that are charged with the care and well-being of children and adolescents have largely been unresponsive or slow to acknowledge the needs of LGBTQ youth, and in some cases even hostile” said L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings, who led the team that developed the grant proposal.

“As a result, these systems deliver misguided, uninformed, and ultimately second-class care that harms LGBTQ youth in their custody. All too often they’re housed in isolation ‘for their own safety,’ blamed for being harassed because they’re open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, or disciplined for engaging in age-appropriate conduct that would not be punishable were it between youth of different sexes. It’s the system that’s harming them and we’ve got to change that.”

Key features of the program will include research, evaluation and documentation.

“We will be recording, studying, and analyzing the program carefully,” Cummings said. “We want to know what works for our youth and when we learn it, we will document the success so that our program can be duplicated around the country.”

The center’s proposal to HHS was enthusiastically endorsed by the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, County of Los Angeles Probation Department, Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaraslovsky and Hathaway-Sycamore Child and Family Services.

About the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center provides a broad array of services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, welcoming nearly a quarter-million client visits from ethnically diverse youth and adults each year. Through its Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic and on-site pharmacy, the center offers free and low-cost health, mental health, HIV/AIDS medical care and HIV/STD testing and prevention. The center also offers legal, social, cultural, and educational services, with unique programs for seniors, families and youth, including a 24-bed transitional living program for homeless youth. Visit www.lagaycenter.org.

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