Lavender Youth Recreation & Information Center (LYRIC) is a community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth. In 1988, two young women, Donna Ozawa and Beth Kivel, dreamed about creating a safe and fun place for gay and lesbian youth. A few months later with generous community support LYRIC was born out of the first dance for LGBTQQ youth in San Francisco.
Within a few years, through strong community organizing we gained the support of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office to purchase a building in San Francisco’s traditional “gay neighborhood,” the Castro. In the fiscal year ending June 2004, LYRIC reached over 2,000 young people through our local programming and received 10,284 calls to our national Talkline/Infoline (60% from within California). We also reached approximately 5,232 youth in San Francisco through our outreach activities. Because of our emphasis on peer-based support, youth participation reaches all levels of the agency, including the staff and board. LYRIC has become an acknowledged model for similar agencies around the country.
In the last few years as LGBTQQ adults have found greater mainstream acceptance, youth are coming out at younger and younger ages. Today, it is not uncommon to have eleven and twelve year-olds access our services. However, the increased visibility for adults has not made the world any safer for LGBTQQ youth. In fact, it may be just the opposite. According to a recent study by the California Safe Schools Coalition, two-thirds of LGBTQQ students reported harassment and nearly half (47%) of these students experienced repeated harassment. Students targeted on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation are three times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe. They are more than twice as likely to be depressed, to consider or make a plan for suicide, to have low grades, to use drugs or alcohol, or to be victims of violence.
The growing economic divide between individuals and communities across the nation and the erosion of funding for social services has left many LGBTQQ youth without any basic support in their lives. We are finding a growing number of LYRIC participants challenged by homelessness, family rejection, unemployment, violence, HIV/AIDS or lack of means for basic survival. Our population base is also increasingly diverse, including greater numbers of participants of color, transgender participants as well as youth from low-income backgrounds.
Our message is clear: these youth are part of our family. As a community, it is our responsibility to come together and build a diverse society where LGBTQQ youth are embraced for who they are and encouraged to be who they want to be. By working towards social justice and supporting young leaders, their families and allies, LYRIC is building a world that honors, respects and appreciates LGBTQQ youth and their contributions. What began as simple dream between two friends—and came true because of the tremendous work and support of a broad community alliance—is needed today more than ever in the world.