Dominion Energy Pride ERG

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Side by Side was honored to participate in the launch of Dominion Energy's Pride Employee Resource Group this past month. The new employee group is designed for LGBTQ+ and Allied employees to have a safe place to connect and build community.

About 2 years ago, Side by Side participated in a panel discussion about how companies can be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. It was the first LGBTQ+ event Dominion Energy had ever hosted and nearly 1,000 people attended the event. One of our suggestions was to start an employee resource group, and over the past two years we've been working with LGBTQ+ and Allied leaders to bring Dominion Energy's Pride ERG to reality.

We've been honored to assist in the development of other employee resource groups at Altria Group, Snagajob, McKessen Medical, and Bon Secours. We firmly believe that these groups are an example to a commitment of diversity and inclusion in the work place. As an LGBTQ+ youth organization, we work with local companies to ensure our youth will have jobs where they can bring their full authentic selves into the workplace. We want them to feel affirmed, and celebrate within their jobs and so we work hard to shift culture in the broader Virginia community.

Congratulations to Dominion Energy's Employee Resource Group, we look forward to working with you!

Love, Simon Makes an Impact

Emma Yackso, Director of Youth Programs & Services

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Two weeks ago, Side by Side held a movie night at Bowtie Cinemas for youth and families. We had the entire theater to ourselves to view “Love, Simon,” a new film that depicts the complex experience of being LGBTQ in high school. This is one of the first major movies that not only promotes LGBTQ identities, but focuses on a gay youth’s coming out journey. Youth were able to laugh and cry along with Simon’s journey through navigating social media, coming out, being outed, friendships and a first high school relationship. By having the theater to themselves, youth were free from any pressures or concern about other movie goers’ intolerance, and could relate and enjoy the movie as a community.

 In the week after the film, youth shared how much they loved getting to have a space just for them, and knowing that everyone else in the room could similarly relate to what they saw on screen. They also truly enjoyed finally getting to see LGBTQ folks represented on screen, and getting to share that experience with other Side by Side youth and facilitators. We look forward to hosting similar events in the future, and finding more ways for youth to build community and safe spaces outside of the Side by Side building.

Alternative Prom

by Jae, age 14

Every year Side by Side throws an alternative prom for youth. This prom is a chance for people of any gender identity or sexuality to express their unique and groovy selves in a safe environment. Everyone is invited to come and be themselves—whether it be a group of friends, a couple, or someone looking for other LGBTQ+ youth like them. This year the theme is disco, a bright and happy era filled with music and self-expression! Alternative prom helps LGBTQ+ youth enjoy the glamor and milestone of high school prom, without the negatives that some schools still enforce.

While some schools are more accepting, others are still discriminatory, and have rules that target their LGBTQ+ students. We believe that everyone should be able to wear the clothes that correspond with their identity and go with whoever it is they cherish. Even though some schools don’t have written policies preventing people from this authentic self-expression, the environment may be still hostile and unwelcoming, and keep youth from feeling comfortable enough to truly enjoy the night. Side by Side is proud to offer the RVA Alternative Prom—safe and welcoming for all!

Side by Side’s RVA Alternative Prom will be help on Saturday May 5th, from 7 pm – 11 pm at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church. Admission is $5. Click here to RSVP on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/events/1892607457439112/ .

Side by Side is also supporting the Charlottesville UnProm sponsored by C’Ville Pride on Saturday, May 12th at Kitchen Catering – Click here to RSVP on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/410862726028223/.

Side by Side with LGBTQ+ Incarcerated Youth

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Side by Side's mission is to ensure LGBTQ+ youth in Virginia have supportive communities where they can define themselves, belong, and flourish. This past year we have strategically asked how to support LGBTQ+ youth who are most marginalized, most disadvantaged, and most at risk. That is why, for the past few years, we have worked with our partners at the Virginia Anti-Violence Project and the Nationz Foundation to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth who are currently incarcerated.

LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately impacted by what many refer to as the "school to prison pipeline." The reasons for this are as varied as the stories youth bring to us. For one, due to high rates of bullying and violence in schools, LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to miss school or drop out entirely; leading to issues of truancy. LGBTQ+ youth also face violence at home; leading to experiences of homelessness and housing instability. And many LGBTQ+ youth turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with a world that they feel hates them. These are just some of the reasons LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to end up incarcerated.

The staff at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center reached out to Side by Side to provide support with their first openly transgender youth. From informal meetings with youth and staff we realized the large number of LGBTQ+ youth within the facility. Recognizing the identities and experiences of these youth, we partnered with VAVP and Nationz, ensuring that we could meet the capacity needs of this project. And just this month, we started our first youth support group within the facility.

As we expand as an organization, we ask ourselves if we are meeting the needs of those most marginalized in our community? Are we able to sustain this project/program for the longterm? And can we make a substantial impact in the lives of the LGBTQ+ youth we work with? When the answer is yes to all three, as it was this this project, we move forward. We hope to continue to evolve to meet the needs of youth and families we serve and continue to be side by side with youth in need.

Meet Side by Side Middle School Youth - Ally

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Introducing, Ally LaGrange, an 8th grader who has been attending our Richmond Middle School Program for a year and a half now.

Ally had always been a lively and outgoing gifted student involved in dance, choir, and band. A year before she came out, her parents noted a drastic change in behavior. She became withdrawn and quiet, isolating herself in her room, developing social anxiety, and ultimately battling depression. Through counseling and self-discovery Ally came out as a lesbian to her counselor and her family. The counselor referred the family to us and to Ally’s surprise, her parents were completely supportive and immediately followed up on the counselor’s referral.

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For Ally and her family, the Side by Side experience fit the bill from the beginning, says Ally, “My first visit to Side by Side was great! I discovered these other kids who are like me!”

Ally’s experience at her school has been more of a mixed bag, “the kids at school aren’t super accepting, and there are no LGBTQ+ student groups there, while the kids at Side by Side are so thoughtful, fun and very kind to one another. It was really nice to find support here at Side by Side. Before I came out and really knew what was going on with me, I just felt off. Afterwards, I had a realization about everything that was going on with me, it was like, wow, ok – this is my norm now.”

At Side by Side, Ally was able to find a community, explore her identity, build trust, and find lasting friendships. Ally describes that community of support as, ”my second home and the facilitators and volunteers here are incredible, I love them all, they’re just wonderful people.”

In supporting our middle school youth, Side by Side offers a parent’s group that meets at the same time. Ally’s mother notes that, “the parent’s group has provided a tremendous amount of support. We share stories of our experiences with one another and feel free to speak very openly. The facilitators and staff make a ton resources available to us as well. It’s been all around supportive for our family.”

In reflecting on Ally’s experience, her mom had this to say, “I’ve seen a huge difference in my daughter. I really love seeing how confident she’s become. Her creativity is exploding and she’s back to being an honor student once again. She was hiding and alone and now Ally is very proud of who she is and I think that’s great! I think she’ll have a lot of success in the future.”

 

James River High School Visit

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I’m always impressed by how Side by Side makes an impact on LGBTQ+ youth in and outside of the center’s walls. In addition to youth programming, Side by Side staff regularly conducts trainings with schools, and other human service providers across the state. In this year alone, staff trained over 3,000 teachers, counselors, and administrators.

Back in 2000, James River High School was the recipient of Side by Side’s community support. When I and other students worked to create the school’s first Gay Straight Alliance, Side by Side was there to provide assistance and guidance. The club gained approval from school administration and became one of the first GSAs in Chesterfield County.

Last month, James River’s current GSA president invited me back to speak with the group. Side by Side’s Micky Jordan joined me for a discussion with about 40 students. I was inspired by the bright and brilliant youth and impressed with the turnout: When I was in high school, we were excited when 10 people attended a meeting.

I’m thankful that James River’s GSA continues to be a safe space and an opportunity for dialogue for LGBTQ+ students and allies. And I’m grateful for Side by Side’s support years ago – because it’s paying dividends today.

Side by Side with Chesterfield Parents

Kicking off Inclusive Schools week, Associate Director, John Taylor represented Side by Side at the Chesterfield County Council PTA Diversity and Inclusion panel with six other panelists:

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  • Moderator: Dr. Jamelle Wilson, Dean, U of R School of Professional & Continuing Studies
  • Dr. Imad Damaj from the Islamic Center of Virginia
  • Mr. Eric Lin, Asian American Society of Central Virginia
  • Mr. Tavorise Marks, Chairman of the Legal Redress Committee for the Chesterfield Branch NAACP
  • Ms. Kim Owens from Including Me in Virginia
  • Dr. Zoe Spencer, Ph.D, Professor in the Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice at Virginia State University
  • Mr. John Taylor, Associate Director of Side by Side (formerly ROSMY)
  • Mr. Michel Zajur from the Virginia Hispanic Foundation and Chamber of Commerce

After welcoming remarks from School Board Chair Dr. Javaid Siddiqi, District Superintendent Dr. James Lane and Dr. John Gordon, Chief of Schools gave a report on the present-day efforts towards inclusion and equity within Chesterfield County Public Schools.

Inclusive Schools week is held annually during the first week in December to note and celebrate the progress that schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population, including students who are marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preference and other factors. The Week also provides an opportunity for educators, students and parents to discuss further measures needed to ensure that their schools continue to improve their ability to successfully educate all children.

2017 Year in Review - Letter from Ted Lewis

Dear Friends of Side by Side,

With your support, Side by Side has continued to grow and meet the evolving needs of Virginia’s LGBTQ+ youth. As we move into our 27th year, your support has ensured that as we receive more and more LGBTQ+ youth at Side by Side, we are able to provide them all with the support to define themselves and have a safe place to belong, and truly flourish.

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The bottom line is this: your continued support is allowing us to stretch deeper into the community by reaching more youth and training more professionals than ever before in Richmond, Charlottesville, and now in Petersburg High School.


This year we’ve seen over 350 unique youth in support groups AND trained over 3,000 teachers, counselors, and youth service providers, including training for all sworn officers in Richmond City Police Department.

Our work continues to be exceptionally effective: when surveyed, 87% of the youth have stated that our curriculum has significantly improved their daily lives and over 85% of training attendees have reported a substantial increase in their understanding of LGBTQ+ youth.

This year we have welcomed several new members to our Side by Side staff, including the addition of a second Counselor:

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You have allowed us to consistently deliver high quality programs to an increasingly diverse base of youth, families, and professionals across the commonwealth of Virginia, and we are poised to have an even greater impact in the year ahead with you by our side. The board, staff, and youth ask that you please consider making a year-end gift to Side by Side, to fund our upcoming efforts to effectively support more youth in their journey to flourish in our growing community base.

Sincerely,

Ted Lewis

P.S.  Your help today will allow Side by Side to reach more youth, in more places, than ever before.  Please renew your commitment to Side by Side today and ensure communities continue to grow to support LGBTQ+ youth in Central Virginia.

2017 Year in Review

MORE & MORE YOUTH & FAMILIES

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This year we continue to see more youth and families reach out for support. 2017 saw attendance at all our youth support groups increase especially our LGBTQ+ and Transgender Youth support groups in Richmond who jumped from an average of 20-25 youth per week to 30-35 youth per week.

 This past January, we launched our new LGBTQ+ Youth of Color Group with the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, to provide a space for youth to talk about the intersection of their sexual and gender identity with their racial and ethnic identity.

Just this past month, Side by Side launched our LGBTQ+ Middle School Program in Charlottesville to support youth ages 11-14 and their parents. Middle school is a critical time for youth and we know LGBTQ+ youth often struggle during 6th-8th grade. We are thrilled to continue to expand our Middle School programming in the Charlottesville area this year.

Side by Side Richmond added a second licensed counselor as Chevelle Moss-Savage joined our team to ensure LGBTQ+ youth get the mental health support they need to not only survive but thrive!

CREATING SUPPORTIVE SCHOOLS & COMMUNITIES

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We continue to see a significant growth in the number of schools, government agencies and youth-serving organizations that reach out to us for support in creating affirming environments for LGBTQ+ youth.  From the Boy Scouts to the Virginia Education Association to the Episcopal Schools of Virginia, Side by Side continues to share our expertise throughout the Commonwealth.

With your support, our trainings elevate the knowledge of Virginia’s non-profit and public-sector workforce, playing a significant role in affecting positive change – while continuing to shine a light on the issues that most affect our youth.

HOPE IN CHALLENGING TIMES

The strained political environment over the past year has contributed to many difficult challenges for LGBTQ+ youth in our communities. We’ve seen an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ bullying in schools and many youth share heartbreaking stories of the scary realities the national anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric has on their lives. A recent Side by Side survey found 70% of our youth are actively suicidal, an increase of 11% from last year.

The election just weeks ago saw the first openly transgender woman Danica Roem and first openly lesbian woman Dawn Adams join Virginia’s General Assembly. This watershed moment gave many LGBTQ+ youth in Virginia and beyond, hope that they too can define who they are, belong and flourish, even to the point of helping to change the laws in their state. Youth at our Transgender support group sent Delegate-Elect Roem letters of support this month thanking her for her courage.

Delegates-Elect Roem and Adams gave hope to our youth during these rather challenging times. Knowing that people like you have their back and support programs like Side by Side make a difference. Thank you for your support!

 

Delegate-Elect Roem Inspires Trans Youth

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On November 7th Danica Roem became the first ever openly transgender woman elected to the General Assembly in Virginia. This landmark victory provides transgender youth with a truly amazing possibility model. This past week at our Richmond Transgender Support Group youth wrote letters of congratulation to Delegate-Elect Roem.

Here's just a sample of what our youth sent to Delegate-Elect Roem:

"I'm so proud to be a Virginian right now! You're amazing and strong!"

"Being public about our transgender identities is not easy... Being visible, however, is so beautiful and fulfilling when we get to inspire LGBTQ+ youth to be themselves and embrace their identities. I want to thank you for all the work you've done for the community and let you know that you've inspired me and countless others in Virginia. Keep kicking butt and doing you!"

"You're changing the world and we welcome you with open arms."

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"As a fellow trans person, and someone who also wants to go into politics when I am older, I find you an inspiration! Having visibility is important and having it in a field of work that I want to go into is even cooler."

"Your election win has empowered me to another level! Your confidence, patience, and poise is infectious and radiates throughout the country. I hope to walk along side you as a colleague, as I am majoring in Community Advocacy and Social Policy."

"You are a total badass! I just want to say that because of you, I actually paid attention to the election, and it opened my eyes in so many different ways. Thanks and keep rocking it out!"

"With every jab, you carried on with confidence and a sharp wit. You've showed me that I can do that too."

Side by Side Participates in Southwest Virginia Summit

This past month Side by Side participated in a summit on supporting LGBTQ+ survivors of violence hosted by The Action Alliance and also featuring the Virginia Anti-Violence ProjectHealth BrigadePlanned Parenthood, and the Nationz Foundation.

The day-long summit, hosted in Emory, Virginia, provided training and support to local educators and advocates looking to support LGBTQ+ survivors. Over 40 participants from throughout Southwest Virginia came out to learn best practices, get advice, and build connections. While Side by Side's youth programming focuses on Central Virginia, we provide training, consultation, and support to youth throughout the state. 

Click here to learn more about Side by Side's Training Program.

The Importance of Celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month

October is full of many things; cooler days and nights, pumpkin spice everything, hay rides, harvests, and Halloween. It's also LGBTQ+ History month! We are honoring this month by curating and displaying an LGBTQ+ Timeline. This project is a labor of love and a proud recovering of the pivotal moments over the last century that has shaped our understanding of the LGTBTQ+ community and allies that have brought to this moment in time.

Uncovering and discovering LGBTQ+ history is a process of pride and inspiration. History teaches us lessons that help shape our tomorrows. It gives context and reminders to our youth that the time and space they live in is because of the courageous women, men and persons who boldly stood for LGBTQ+ humanity and inclusion within the greater society.

Side by Side is amazed at the lessons youth are learning from reading the timeline. For many, this timeline is their first introduction to pivotal moments, dynamic leaders, and political victories that have been integral to creating the world they are growing up in. It also has sparked conversation on the ways our youth are part of history through their process of defining themselves and belonging in the schools and communities they find themselves.

We look forward to deeper conversations and aha moments talking about LGBTQ+ history with the youth and the greater Side by Side family.

Click here to learn more about our Richmond Youth Programs.