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.