A good education is designed to expose youth to the countless career possibilities available after graduating. Everyone deserves this. But when children don’t feel safe in school, they can’t learn. When they don’t feel safe this can lead to chronic absenteeism. And lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are twice as likely to skip school because they don’t feel safe.
As we work to shape an ecosystem wherein every student can receive an excellent education and a solid footing for college and/or career, we collaborate with organizations like Side by Side who advocate for the fact that the education continuum needs to include all our youth, and that all too often LGBTQ+ youth fall to the sidelines.
Facing harsh school environments, often compounded by unaccepting parents and family, LGBTQ+ youth are at much greater risk for school failure, escapist behavior such as substance abuse, and tragically, suicide and self-harm.
According to the Center for Disease Control, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are three to five times more likely to attempt suicide when compared to their heterosexual peers. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 42% of transgender people will attempt suicide in their lifetime with the majority making the first attempt before the age of 20. According to Side by Side’s own youth surveys, between 60-70% of our youth have seriously considered killing themselves in the last 6-months.
Side by Side’s goals are for LGBTQ+ youth to flourish in school and in life, and to provide a space where LGBTQ+ youth can be themselves.
Side by Side provides 1:1 mental health counseling to our most at-risk youth at no cost to them or their family, and they train local schools and assist in the creation of inclusive policies that ensure LGBTQ+ can thrive. They offer support groups, mental health counseling, and engage with local school communities to build resiliency in our youth and affirming environments in our community. Support groups for youth 11-20 are provided by Side by Side at their Richmond Youth Center on Westwood Ave and serve about 350 unique youth in Richmond alone. They also have these groups in Charlottesville and at Petersburg High School.
Ted Lewis, Executive Director of Side by Side said, “The support group curriculum focuses on instilling a positive self-image, building community with peers and trusted adults, and learning coping strategies during times of stress and suicidal ideations. 85% of our youth feel like they matter, which is a key factor in building up hope for the future. 90% of our youth report having supportive peers in their life to go to when they need help. And 95% of our youth are able to identify at least one healthy coping strategy during times of stress.”
We proud to partner with Side by Side as they give LGBTQ+ youth a place to belong, and through their outreach, help make our schools safe places to be, so all our youth have the opportunity to learn.
“With the support of the Robins Foundation, we are able to offer these sometimes life-saving services to LGBTQ+ youth in our community and reach more youth and families,” said Lewis.