BIG NEWS on the fight to keep Portland's teens safe, sound, and in school: One of the city's largest LGBT nonprofits, the Q Center, confirmed this week that it's merging with beloved queer youth nonprofit the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC). The merger adds two full-time staffers and two big county outreach contracts to the Q Center, but more importantly, it shows that LGBT folks are—slowly—reversing the right-wing's rhetorical monopoly on caring for the children.
Though liberal ladies' ovaries function just fine, thank you, conservative anti-gay movements all too often use kids as scapegoats, fighting political battles with The Simpsons' character Helen Lovejoy's screeching mantra, "Think of the children!"
There are myriad examples of anti-gay child-waving: Citing the well being of kids, five states (Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska, Mississippi, and Utah) have passed laws that ban gay couples from adopting; Focus on the Family founder James Dobson argued that the daughter of Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter would be screwed up without a male father figure; gay teachers are harassed and pressured into staying in the closet, out of fears they'll corrupt the youth (see: the treatment of student teacher Seth Stambaugh in Beaverton last year ["Beaverton Gets Schooled," News, Oct 28, 2010]).
But righteousness is on our side! Especially over the past decade, the gays and their friends have been gradually reversing the idea that LGBT folks present a danger to children, instead building an understanding of the idea that the real danger is not having queer role models for kids.
Bolstered by science that shows kids of gay parents routinely turn out great (a 24-year-long study released in November reported zero percent of teens raised by lesbian couples experienced child abuse, compared to 26 percent of teens facing abuse nationally) and a growing awareness of the queer youth suicide epidemic (over 80 percent of transgender teens contemplate suicide), outreach to the LGBT under-18 set is improving.
Under the merger with Q Center, SMYRC's drop-in center will move to a new location, but the programs it runs for 700 to 1,000 local youths a year, who range from 12 to 23 years old, will remain the same. Q Center offered to merge with SMYRC after the nonprofit's executive director left in 2010 and it looked like the center would lose its home in a building on NE MLK.
"Queer youth need a home and it fits right into our mission, so it was kind of a no-brainer," says Q Center public relations manager Logan Lynn. "We are the community center for the entire community, but our youth program needed to be beefier."
It's significant that the work SMYRC does has official sign-off and public funding. The center's outreach programs are built on Washington and Multnomah County grants totaling $207,000 to run pride programs in local schools. That means hosting discussion groups, helping Gay-Straight Alliances, and sitting down with parents and kids in a way that wouldn't have been possible 20 years ago.
And the proof is in SMYRC's results: While the state's on-time graduation rate is only 67 percent, 90 percent of those at-risk-youth SMYRC works with remain in school. Won't somebody think of the children?