One n Ten, a Phoenix nonprofit serving LGBTQ youth ages 11 to 24, knows the challenges and struggles that LGBTQ youth face and the unique needs that accompany. Fulfilling these needs is not only their job, but also their passion. The struggles that LGBTQ youth face are very real; these problems have names and faces and are at the forefront of their work each day.
LGBTQ youth face disproportionate rates of homelessness, housing insecurity, and representation the foster care system. This can contribute to a ripple effect of economic struggle throughout an individual’s life, and One n Ten centers this reality in much of their work at the center.
“Roughly 40% of the homeless youth on the street identify as LGBTQ, even though they should only account for 8%… there tends to be a disproportionate amount of LGBTQ youth in our foster care system” said Gina Read, Program Manager at One n Ten. “With that being said, they are already at a disadvantage because even if they have gotten off the streets, they may not have received an education, have suffered trauma, etc…getting out of poverty is extremely hard to do in this day and age.”
One n Ten is not only aware of this reality, but also makes providing safe and reliable housing for LGBTQ youth living in these situations one of their most important missions and continue to fight an oftentimes uphill battle to do so.
“Safe housing is always a barrier,” said Sebastian Blackwell, One n Ten’s satellite program manager. “We have about ten (housing) units, which is not enough, and we have a long waitlist of youth. We provide resources to other agencies, but oftentimes those agencies are not LGBT-friendly, they don’t know how to serve our trans and nonbinary youth. It’s not always a safe space.”
In addition to providing safe physical spaces, One n Ten dedicates themselves to providing safe emotional spaces as well. This takes the form of everything from group meetings to Camp OUTdoors, the largest LGBTQ summer camp in the country.
“I think a big part of what we do is holding space,” said Blackwell. “A lot of times youth are not accepted at home, not accepted at school, but when they come to One n Ten, they know they can be themselves.”
One n Ten values education. Holding pop-up groups across Arizona, One n Ten offers opportunities for education that are both engaging and important.
“Youth come and we borrow space in different communities and during that time we run a program,” said Blackwell. “It can be arts-based, self-esteem, sex-ed that’s actually comprehensive and supports LGBT youth, different things like that.”
One n Ten makes sure to keep intersectionality at the forefront of their work.
“Taking an intersectional, anti-oppression, anti-racism approach in our work is really important. We offer spaces that are population-specific. We have our queer youth of color group, that is a people of color-only LGBT space for LGBT folks led by staff of color,” said Blackwell. “We also have a group that we’ve recently started where it’s LGBTQ folks who are neurodiverse and on the autism spectrum.”
Creating space for these important dialogues is not limited to youth at the center. One n Ten also makes it a priority to encourage these important conversations within their staff as well in order to foster a wholly inclusive environment.
“As a staff team, we have recently been undergoing extensive training and HR work around maintaining an anti-racist approach as we serve youth. We recognize that the needs of our LGBT youth of color are much different than white youth,’ said Blackwell.
One n Ten knows that for all the support, resources and safety that they provide, significant changes still need to be made in the other environments where LGBTQ youth spend the majority of their time; to One n Ten, school is one of the most important places to start.
“I would strongly suggest that all schools go through the Anti-Defamation League and their World of Difference peer training. This training teaches a core group of students anti-bias activities,” said Read. “Then, these students teach all incoming freshmen. It basically sets up a good environment where all students are valued.”
Read stresses that resources for LGBTQ youth need to go beyond policies on paper- there needs to be real implementation that can be seen in schools’ daily environments.
“Schools need policies that protect all students from harassment and bullying. But they also need to step in when kids are being harassed,” said Read. “Policies are nothing if they are not enforced across the board.”
One n Ten knows that their work is never done; there will always be someone new looking for the emotional and physical resources that they work tirelessly to provide for young people who, in some cases, may not have access anywhere else. They embrace this and keep their mission simple; being a place where LGBTQ youth can embrace themselves fully and securely, no matter where they’re coming from.
“We’re a space where they can be themselves,” said Blackwell. “Where their names and their pronouns will always be used, we’re a safe space for them to explore who they are and really connect with other LGBTQ folks and the community.”