FAVOR ELLIS, TOLERANT AND APPROACHABLE, has a mane of untimely white hair. It gives her a motherly air. But it's her tattoos that give her street cred with the kids.
SMYRC, the Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Resource Center (3024 NE MLK), is Oregon's only community center for queer youth. At the center, staff offices branch out from a large space with a performance stage, art room, drag closet, and pool table; it variously functions as a day center, therapy house, and community event and leadership training space. And Ellis is SMYRC's much-loved ringleader.
It's a busy time of year for Ellis and her org. "We are a youth-oriented agency," Ellis says. "And they have a lot of ideas." Two weeks ago, the youth built planter boxes for SMYRC's new community garden. And the organization is gearing up for its first ever Gayest Day of the Year Bike Ride, a Pride Month event and fundraiser (see our Top 10 Pride Picks, pg. 19).
SMYRC's work isn't all rainbows and glitter. Pushed underground, the queer youth that SMYRC serves are vulnerable, marginalized, and hugely overrepresented in foster care, jails, and on the streets. Approximately 40 percent of Portland's homeless youth are LGBTQ.
"They're kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation, and forced to become homeless," Ellis says.
Ellis would know: For 10 years, she worked for three homeless youth agencies, working directly with youth with serious behavioral and at-risk problems.
That experience is being put to work. Amid stacks of chocolate bars, Kleenex, and Play-Doh in her office, Ellis shares her "huge dream" for SMYRC's next big step: a shelter for seven to 10 homeless transgender youth, which would provide housing and services as they transition to adulthood and their new gender.
Ellis admits the shelter could end up serving queer youth of all backgrounds and orientations. "This is in its infancy," Ellis says, noting that there currently is no major donor, no planned site, and no specific timeline in place. Right now, aside from even fundraising, she says, "We're laying the groundwork for enthusiasm."