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Legislative committee OKs funding of community support group for LGBTQ youth in GLOW region

By Mike Pettinella

By contracting with GLOW OUT, an organization dedicated to providing services for those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (questioning), Genesee County is opening the door to “a friendly place” for youth -- free from bullying and discrimination.

That’s the view of Lynda Battaglia, director of Mental Health & Community Services, and William Schutt, Youth Bureau director, who presented a resolution this afternoon to the County Legislature’s Human Services Committee seeking $4,000 in start-up funding.

Schutt informed the committee that the idea for a support group in the GLOW (Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming county) region – similar to the established GLYS, WNY, Inc. in Buffalo – started after he learned about a student who was being bullied at school “for a perception of being LGBTQ.”

“That student was told that he could go to the (school’s) GSA (Gay Straight Alliance group), but he said, ‘Then I would out myself for sure in a place where I don’t really feel comfortable in.’”

That set the wheels in motion for Schutt to contact GLOW OUT President Gregory Hallock, who also is executive director of the Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council in Batavia. GLOW OUT rents space from GO Art!

Following a presentation by Hallock and board members’ training with GLYS personnel, Schutt said everyone had a better idea of how the organization could make a positive difference in the lives of youth (ages 12-21) in that specific population.

“It’s giving somebody a friendly place to go for a couple hours, a couple times of month, for them to be themselves,” Schutt said.

Battaglia said she, as director of community services, has the responsibility “to identify gaps or holes and services in the community for all populations that fall under health services – mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities.”

“It is a service that’s needed,” she said. “To put it in … context, if you think of what social determinants of health are -- so you are in the center and you can think about these positive determinants that you need in order to live a healthy and whole life.

“So, like education, at school, maybe community supports, family supports, access to medical care, access to mental health care -- all of these things that encompass you, as a person, and what LGBT youth are faced with is a very difficult and challenging ability to acquire these positive social determinants of health.”

Battaglia said LGBTQ youth face a significant amount of stigma and shame, and are at a high risk of bullying in school and in their families.

“They're at high risk for substance abuse. They're at high risk of becoming a runaway, becoming homeless, which leads to a whole host of other negative aspects, including medical and mental health,” she added. “And when we think about suicide, in general, for individuals ages 10 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for youth that identify as LGBTQ. They contemplate suicide three to four times more so than their peers.”

GLOW OUT will offer mentors, allies and a safe space to talk about life issues, she said, noting that the $4,000 already had been budgeted for special projects.

Referrals from school personnel and families are high right now, Battaglia said, making it doubly important to establish a support group outside of the school setting.

She said if a student is being bullied at his or her school because he or she identifies as LGBTQ, the likelihood of that person wanting to get additional supports within that school is minimal.

“They face further shame, stigmatization and bullying, so they’re not going to the GSAs,” she said. “And when a student gets to our mental health agency, and if this is an area that they need assistance with, we don't have anywhere to refer them to. So, this is a vital service that’s essentially non-existent right now in the county.”

Battaglia said she will be contacting her counterparts in the other three counties to see if they would also provide funding. She also said grants are available for these types of programs.

The Human Services Committee approved the request to appropriate $4,000 for the rest of the calendar year, moving the resolution to the full legislature for consideration.

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