By Elizabeth Barton
A LGBT youth organization in Delaware County provides valuable time and resources to create a safe environment for kids to be themselves.
LGBTQ Indiana youth find community support
MUNCIE, Ind. — While there is a lack of resources for LGBTQ students in Indiana schools, community organizations are stepping up to the plate, including Delaware County’s Muncie OUTreach.
According to GLSEN’s 2015 State Snapshot: School Climate in Indiana Report many LGBTQ students do not have access to in-school resources and support. Only 6% of LGBTQ students attended an Indiana school with policies against bullying and harassment specifying against harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity and only 14% received positive education of LGBTQ people in a classroom.
Outside the school setting, LGBTQ youth might also experience discrimination at home. Brad Becker, the president of the LGBT National Help Center, said that the hotline sees a long-held pattern of youth from religious and conservative households facing the highest degree of discrimination.
“We saw a very large increase after the results of the 2016 presidential election. Many LGBT youth are afraid that what limited rights they might have would be removed,” Becker said.
Jordan White, a 20-year-old transgender man, is originally from Carmel, Indiana, a place he describes as being unfriendly towards transgender people. Growing up, White had very limited exposure to LGBT topics and resources that could have made his coming out both to himself and his family a lot easier.
“I think having someone, who is at a point that I am currently at in my transition, talk to me, as like a young trans person who just came out, would have helped me figure my identity out a lot quicker,” White said. “I could have figured out what the hell I was feeling, and how to navigate it in circumstances where not everyone knows what a trans person is.”
Just over five years ago, LGBTQ youth in Delaware County had nowhere to go to explore their sexual orientation and gender identity and feel safe if they experienced rejection from family or peers either.
Laura Janney, as a mother of a gay son, recognized the need for a safe place for LGBT youth in Muncie and responded by founding Muncie OUTreach in August 2012. On top of being the founder, Janney is the executive director of Muncie OUTreach, which operates as a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide an accepting environment for LGBTQ youth in the Delaware County area.
“We just try to create as much resources as we can, so a kid can know where to reach out and know where they are safe to reach out, because not every place is safe,” Janney said.
Muncie OUTreach, which is run out of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Muncie on W Bradford Drive, provides several resources for LGBT youth they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.
Muncie OUTreach meets two times a week, the core group meeting on Friday from 5–8 p.m., where it offers the kids a free meal before discussing an LGBT related topic or partaking in a fun activity lead by the volunteers.
The second meeting of the week is held on Tuesdays. This meeting, called Finding Spirit, is specifically for transgender youth. Most of White’s involvement with Muncie OUTreach was at these meetings, where members discuss transgender topics and experiences they have had as transgender people. White values having a space where his and other members’ identities are validated and respected.
“Being able to go somewhere like Muncie OUTreach and come out. And then hearing we acknowledge you and we accept you, as a teenager is so important, because you don’t really get that outlet anywhere else,” White said. “Elsewhere, you’re seen as just a kid and you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
White was introduced to Muncie OUTreach in the fall of 2015, during his first year at Ball State, through his Greek Organization Gamma Rho Lambda, but started being active in the organization the following year. White says one of the first things he learned by getting involved in Muncie OUTreach was how integral the organization was to the Muncie community, as well as towns and rural communities in the surrounding area.
“Muncie OUTreach is just a really good place for resources for kids, especially because Laura makes sure she is as informed as possible,” White said.
Through collaboration with Open Door Health Services, Muncie OUTreach is able to provide free STI testing and sex education. They hand out free condoms and resources for people to learn how to have safe sex for all sexual orientations and gender identities, something often overlooked in the sex education kids receive in schools.
“When same-sex relationships and sexual contact are omitted from safer-sex education in the schools, LGBT youth feel that the information being given out doesn’t apply to their lives and they are not taught options for reducing their risks if they choose to be sexual,” Becker said.
Muncie OUTreach also provides trans youth with access to tools like binders, which are used by transgender men and gender non-conforming individuals to flatten their chests. White says binders are very important to helping alleviate gender dysphoria.
Based on the national study done by the Williams Institute in 2012, there is estimated to be 2.8 million homeless youth in the United States, 40% of whom identify in the LGBTQ community. This is highly disproportionate in comparison to their heterosexual and cisgender peers, since only 7% of the entire US youth population identify as LGBTQ.
Due to homelessness being prevalent in the LGBTQ community, Muncie OUTreach runs a food pantry to provide nourishment for kids who may not have a place to live or are not provided for at home. White says he is grateful the food pantry exists because for a period of time, he was in need of it.
The most common reasons LGBTQ youth become homeless is due to family rejection and abuse, which as Janney said, is what makes places like Muncie OUTreach so vital.
Throughout Indiana there are similar organizations to Muncie OUTreach, including Bloomington Pride in Bloomington, Indiana; Indiana Youth Group in Indianapolis; and Pride Alliance Columbus in Columbus, Indiana. To learn more about resources available nearby or nationally check the LGBT National Help Center’s resource database.
LGBTQ Resources in Indiana Map
LGBTQ Term Glossary Flashcards
The Genderbread Person Interactive Graphic
The Genderbread Person Interactive Graphic that allows readers to fill out and dress their genderbread person with the purpose of them exploring their own identities.
Source for image: The Genderbread Person v.3