The Hetrick-Martin Institute, the nation’s oldest and largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth serving agency, has been addressing health disparities amongst LGBTQ youth of color since its inception in 1979. We lost our first young person to AIDS in 1987 and our founders a few years later. HIV has had an enormous impact on our communities and continues to rise amongst our youngest. We have been at the forefront in articulating how our society creates conditions that facilitate infection amongst young men who have sex with men and will continue doing so for the health of our community.
Our LGBTQ youth are also impacted significantly by the negative health outcomes of victimization. LGBTQ youth are subjected to harassment and bullying at significantly greater rates than other youth, which in turn produce mental health stressors. LGBTQ youth do not have special needs but they do have unique challenges that require affirmative support. LGBTQ youth need what all young people need – the opportunity to succeed, adults that support them, and a safe and supportive environment in which to thrive. Isolation, rejection, harassment are too common is the lives of too many LGBTQ youth therefore Hetrick-Martin is committed to creating programming from a strength based perspective that celebrates the actuality of all young people.
Our programs provide youth, between the ages of 12 and 24, with skills they will need to transition to a healthy adulthood, the knowledge to utilize their skill set to the best of their ability and the self-perception that they are worthy of succeeding. We provide wraparound services all year round in five service areas: Academic Enrichment, Arts & Culture, Job Readiness, Health & Wellness and Mental Health. Our programs are available to youth all year round and free of charge. Our programs affirm and celebrate all young people from a strength-based perspective therefore youth attending HMI programs are not “at-risk” but are at promise youth; youth at promise for success, happiness and full integration into their adult identities.
Our CHAT program, funded by the Office of Minority Health, provides young people a voice by training them to be peer educators and giving them skills necessary to spread their knowledge using social media. Youth within this program have created videos, blogs and developed twitter messages addressing health disparities within their community.
Our Stars of CHANGE program, funded by the AIDS Institute, a community-level intervention developed to build leadership amongst house/ball young people provides youth the opportunity to develop messages for their community and lead the way in addressing HIV infection. Young people participating in this intervention have successfully developed social marketing strategies that are referenced regularly throughout New York City.
Our Street Smart intervention, funded by the CDC, is tailored to meet the needs of young trans women of color. This program has integrated a record number of trans women into our agency in the last year alone. We have been able to engage the young women around their HIV-risk behavior and successfully connected to our on-site partner medical provider, HEAT program.
Our programs not only impart knowledge to young people, but we empower youth to take control of their health issues. Youth are partners in the development of these strategies, which provide a skill set that assists in their professional growth.
In order to continue to address the health disparities experienced by LGBTQ youth of color we must dismantle and train a critical eye on the systems that facilitate their existence. We must address the young person within the systems in which they live as we address the system itself. Understanding the impact that poverty has on health disparities would move us closer to closing this gap. Critically understanding the challenges faced by LGBTQ youth and how these challenges will frame their access to health promotion is essential to addressing these issues.
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With a decade’s worth of experience in youth development, Lillian Rivera is currently the Director of Advocacy and Capacity Building at the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI), the nation's oldest and largest LGBTQ youth serving agency with sites in New York City and Newark New Jersey.