What is Equal?
EQUAL is Kansas City’s for youth-by youth Gay Straight Alliance Network, connecting queer youth across the metropolitan area. EQUAL organizes an annual Empowerment Summit, National Coming Out Day and the Day of Silence. EQUAL will continue and expand its programming as The EQUAL Youth Center. The organizers believe that Kansas City’s queer youth deserve a safe, fun space with daily programming provided by a fiscally strong nonprofit organization with broad-based community support.
Why a Center?
The EQUAL Youth Center began in April 2009 after several youth activists realized through observation and academic research that too many queer youth in Kansas City were left in the dark with little support from the community for their unique needs. Although there are many strong youth programs in KC, most fail to meet the unique circumstances many queer youth find themselves in. In a study by William Jewell graduate Anthony Bowen, it was clear that Kansas City’s queer youth need much more support and access to inclusive services.
This study shows that many LGBTQ youth are still at risk for serious health concerns, including social, mental, physical and sexual health. School safety, domestic violence, parental relations and reactions, sexual health and education, mental health and socializing were all areas where respondents showed they needed more support. Perhaps just as importantly, many respondents who had not been affected in these individual areas did not know of organizations or services to turn to or recommend if they did need support. The key statistical findings include:
• 63% of respondents had been verbally harassed and 13% physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation or gender expression
• 21% had been physically abused by a boyfriend/girlfriend
• 23% either chose or were forced to leave their house in response to coming out
• Only 47% always practiced safe sex, while 16% never practiced safe sex
• 38% of sexually active had never been tested for HIV or other STDs
• Almost 1/3 had attempted suicide with an additional 40% saying they have thought about it
• 2/3 felt there were not adequate opportunities to interact with LGBTQ adults without alcohol or drugs present.
The strongest recommendation to meet these needs was the creation of an LGBTQ youth center–a physical space with a full-time case manager and director opened daily, including evenings and weekends. When asked to rank seven ways to improve Kansas City for LGBT youth, 82% of respondents ranked a new LGBTQ youth center as one of the three best ways. Youth have made it clear that they need a safe place they can always go to for fun, empowerment and support.