Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2018-04-18
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

North Shore group aims to help LGBT youth
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Steven Chaitman
2012-11-07

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


"DC" grew up in a very conservative and religious community in Florida—and knows all too well about the horrors of bullying.

He was bullied regularly in grade school, although "DC" didn't even know what "gay" or "fag" truly meant at the time. When he came out to a few close friends and his mother while in middle school, they were very supportive—and he thought things would be even better in high school, so he came out right away.

His close friends were supportive, but the rest of the student body was not—and the bullying increased. He was severely beaten by a student, just for being gay. He even had a teacher tell him on the last day of school that he was disgusting and that he was going to hell.

"DC" tried to commit suicide because of all the homophobia that he was facing. He questioned whether he should live or die, if so many people hated him for something that he could not change.

Through counseling and the support of his mom, "DC" was able to realize that life is worth living.

He moved to Illinois' North Shore after his freshman year in high school, but the bullying and vandalism continued at his suburban Chicago school. So the school social worker told him about the Pride Youth Program, run by Northfield-based Links: North Shore Youth Health Service, a non-profit organization that empowers young people to make informed, responsible decisions about their health, well-being and sexuality.

"When 'DC' came to Pride for the first time he was quiet," said Erschel De Leon, Pride Youth Program director. "He didn't know anyone, and he wanted to meet other LGBT teens.

"Over the past two and a half years I have seen his confidence grow, and he has become an advocate for his fellow LGBT classmates. He is the one LGBT student that other teens turn to when they need to talk to someone, including many students who are not out to their families or to many of their friends."

"DC" is now 17 and one of the student leaders of his gay-straight alliance. His school hosted its first GSA dance this year. "DC" also does public speaking for Pride.

"He goes to schools and shares his coming-out story and gives the LGBT teen community a face and a voice," De Leon said. "He talks passionately about how homophobic language hurts, and how in some cases, it can lead to self-harm and suicide. His story makes a tremendous impact on the audience.

"It is so amazing to see youth come to Pride and, over time, grow to become leaders in their high school, continue their activism in college, and become more self-confident. One of my favorite moments is when a youth said, 'I'm gay' out loud for the first time and the group applauds. The feeling of support and relief that they feel is so hard to describe. Even after 17 years of facilitating LGBT youth groups, I still get teary-eyed when that happens in group."

De Leon, 39, lives in the northwest suburbs and has worked at Links for almost 11 years. She is single and an ally.

"Twenty years ago, Pride started with one group meeting once a week; we now have four meetings," De Leon said. "Pride has weekly meetings in Evanston, Northfield, and Palatine, for all LGBT students in grades 9-12. The Evanston group is a collaboration with the McGaw YMCA. We also have a group for girls who identify as lesbian and bisexual called Sappho's Sisters that meets every other Tuesday in Northfield.

"The Pride Youth Program fulfills critical needs for LGBT youth," De Leon said. "National studies show that LGBT students are still verbally, and sometimes physically, harassed at school. LGBT teens are at increased risk for truancy, poor grades, and dropping out of school. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers."

"The Pride Youth Program provides a safe, confidential space for LGBT youth to build community and support each other, helping to prevent the most severe issues from impacting these young people's lives."

De Leon said the program has many goals, including helping youth feel connected to the gay community, develop strategies for coping with homophobia, and develop a positive vision for their future. The program also educates participants about HIV/AIDS and other STDs and how to prevent them.

Links has been around since 1973, and Pride sees youth from 47 different communities in the north and northwest suburbs. The youth who attend the program regularly are all in high school, De Leon said, and the racial/ethnic mix is reflective of the communities served.

De Leon said it's a mix of male, female and transgender youth. A few of the schools represented include New Trier, Evanston, Glenbrook North, Glenbrook South, Palatine, Fremd, Conant, Hersey, Rolling Meadows, Deerfield and Warren Township.

Clearly, the biggest issues facing LGBT teens these days, De Leon said, are bullying, family rejection, severe depression that often leads to suicidal thoughts, increased risk of substance abuse, and homelessness.

"Pride meetings are a combination of structured and unstructured time," De Leon said. "Our group discussions consist of a range of topics, including the coming out process, HIV/STD prevention, dealing with homophobia, building healthy relationships, exploring gender identity issues, etc. Guest speakers enhance the program by sharing their personal coming-out stories or their expertise about legal rights, LGBT-friendly colleges, issues of faith, or political activism."

Last year, Pride reached 215 young people who came to the program for a combined total of 1,602 visits.

"I want to see the Evanston Pride and Sappho's Sisters groups grow," De Leon said. "Both groups are fairly new, and getting the word out is always a challenge at first. LGBT youth can bee hard to reach, especially those who aren't out—and they are often the ones who could benefit the most from support groups.

"I'm also working on incorporating a youth leadership component for the group."

The Pride Youth Program is funded through individual donations, fundraising events and grants from Cook County, local townships and foundations, De Leon said. Links' next benefit, with a Kentucky Derby theme, is April 21 in Glenview. Links is also accepting applications for new board members.

The Pride Youth Program is one of the beneficiaries of the annual Proud to Run race in June along the lakefront. Pride participants volunteer to help with gear check, water stops and more on race day, if they're not running. "Proud to Run is a great opportunity for our participants to connect with the broader LGBT community," De Leon said.

"We also march in the parade every year. Last year, we had the largest group we have ever had of youth, alumi, and adult volunteers—about 50 people. It is a lot of fun for the youth to see the diversity of the LGBT community in Chicago and to be a part of the parade."

So how has the program changed De Leon?

"I learn from the youth everyday," she said. "I've really come to appreciate their ability to persevere. They have a strength within and sometimes they just need a little help finding it. It is such a privilege for me to be a part of that journey. To see the youth overcome the hardships they face from their family, peers, and community is one of the reasons I do continue to do this work. I love being an educator and a facilitator."

See www.linksyouth.org for more information.


facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Illinoisans lobby on behalf of curriculum bill 2018-04-18 - More than 100 community members became advocates and activists April 11 when Equality Illinois rallied its supporters at LGBTQ Advocacy Day at the ...


Gay News

DOJ proposes roll back of data collection on crime victimization of LGBT youth 2018-04-11 - LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Department of Justice announced yesterday that it will seek to stop asking 16 and 17 year olds to ...


Gay News

Curriculum work, ERA among EI agenda items 2018-04-11 - An inclusive public schools curriculum, an expansion of employment protections, the Equal Rights Amendment ( ERA ) and the state budget are among ...


Gay News

30 Under 30 Award nominations due April 13 2018-04-11 - Windy City Times is seeking to recognize 30 more outstanding LGBT individuals ( and allies ) for its annual 30 Under 30 Awards. ...


Gay News

Precious Minds project seeks to mentor youth 2018-04-11 - Precious Minds Mentoring Program is a program for young women, founded by a youth who has experienced her own struggles and who now ...


Gay News

'Bolder Than Out' ball April 6 2018-04-04 - In Demand Entertainment ( IDE ) and Chicago State University ( CSU ) Student Government Association ( SGA ) will participate in the ...


Gay News

Oleg Grachev on living in Russia and the U.S. 2018-03-30 - Ever since Oleg Grachev was 10 years old, he had a dream of working on Wall Street. He has fulfulled that dream as ...


Gay News

Youth Outlook's Nancy Mullen reflects on her career, current challenges 2018-03-28 - When Nancy Mullen was hired as Youth Outlook's ( then known as QYC ) first and only executive director in Oct. 1998—the week ...


Gay News

Back 2 School offers scholarship 2018-03-28 - Back 2 School Illinois ( B2SI ) has announced its 2018 College Scholarship program. B2SI, a non-profit organization that creates and supports ...


Gay News

Milwaukee First Municipality in Wisconsin to Protect Youth from Conversion Therapy 2018-03-27 - MILWAUKEE — Today, the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ), the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer ( LGBTQ ) civil ...


 



Copyright © 2018 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Sponsor

About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.