Recently we were approached by Looking Glass, a Eugene based organization working with homeless youth in the rural parts of the mid-Willamette Valley, to conduct training around transgender and gender non-conforming youth. While we didn’t have the internal expertise to lead the training, we certainly had the relationship with, TransActive, whose specialties include but aren’t limited to; educational workshops, training and providing professional speakers to community organizations and professionals around exactly what Looking Glass needed.
Looking Glass’s mission is simple, they work to build a better future for youth and families by helping them navigate the challenges of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.
Kirstin Lee, the Director of Runaway and Homeless Youth Services at Looking Glass, says that when she first started in 2004, 1 in 7 youth living on the streets identified as LGBTQ and now that number is 1 in 3. A staggering statistic, nevertheless, Looking Glass didn’t have the framework, language, or professional expertise to serve folks who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. That was until one impassioned intern took it upon herself find solutions. Heather Whitney, or Kalypso as she is known to many, took it upon herself to email and request for funding to train the entire staffs of the Runaway and Homeless (RHY) youth programs. This encompasses, Station 7 their emergency shelter for youth ages 11-17, New Roads School- a drop-in school for homeless students ages 11-21, The Rural Program- a host home program located in Cottage Grove for youth ages 11-17 and New Roads-the drop-in center for youth ages 16-21.
A longtime activist from Canby, Kalypso knows all too well the harsh realities LGBTQ youth face, many of whom were her good friends. “I was an avid No on 9 volunteer in my community despite the continued verbal and physical bullying. I spent a lot of time in Portland escaping the often homophobic climate in Canby, I saw first-hand how LGBTQ youth were bullied and rejected both at school and at home”.
She goes on to confirm what existing data states, “Once LGBTQ youth are on the streets they may face additional mental and physical health risks and barriers in accessing services”. With her personal conviction and a recent degree in Family and Human Services, Kalypso sought out and secured funding for Looking Glass staff. Because of her initiative and passion for the movement, twenty eight people from four Looking Glass RHY programs have a framework and better understanding of issues that Transgender youth may be facing. The staff were also given information that will enhance basic needs services, housing, case management and coordinating healthcare referrals for transgender, genderqueer and gender nonconforming youth that Looking Glass serve in Lane County.
All it takes is one person with an idea and a hope for the future to make a difference. If you have an idea or thought you’re interested in sharing, we want to hear about. Together, united around our shared vision for a more equal tomorrow, we are building a foundation for all.
Jett is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Oregon. Email Jett.