By Sharon Jonas
The recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court allowing same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states may offer new hope for members of the Pride for Youth community in Bellmore and surrounding communities who feel they are continually ostracized because of their lifestyles. Some contemplate suicide because of society’s lack of support and acceptance toward the lifestyle.
Tawni Engel, center, assistant director of Pride for Youth, and participants
In Bellmore, Pride for Youth has been addressing the legal, social and emotional needs of Nassau County’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) youth and their families since 1993. The support center was established and continues to be funded by the Long Island Crisis Center (LICC), after the agency realized that a startling number of calls on their suicide hotline were from young people struggling with sexual orientation.
Pride for Youth’s second floor space at 2050 Bellmore Avenue offers a non-judgmental safe haven for LGBT teens and young adults who often benefit from their social and professionally run programs.
Tawni Engel, the organization’s assistant director and a licensed mental health counselor, commenting on the Supreme Court’s decision said, “I certainly haven’t seen changes in the last few weeks, but the discussion leading up to it has brought awareness to…what it means to be gay.”
Gallo C., a supervising social worker at Pride for Youth said, “I was chatting with a young person here and he said the court’s decision made him feel a bit safer.” The teen also felt that the new official level of respect will help shift feelings about love regardless of a person’s orientation.
For the last eight years the New York State Assembly has passed a bill designed to protect the rights of transgender people, but it has repeatedly, and most recently, failed in the Senate. Known as GENDA or the Gender Non-Discrimination Act, the bill would upgrade anti-discrimination protections and prohibit “conversion therapy” on youth, which is considered an abusive practice by equal rights advocates.
The core issue for those all in the LGBT community is parental and family support. “Family acceptance is the number one correlation that keeps kids from high-risk behaviors” such as suicide, says Tawni.
Fran Karliner, the director of development at LICC, says, “When kids come home to rejection, it breaks down self-esteem. It’s most helpful for a young person’s development when their biggest advocate is their family.”
To support family members struggling with a loved one’s sexual orientation, a monthly support group meets the last Tuesday of each month from 6:30-8 pm. at Pride for Youth.
Any Problem, Any Time, Any One
Long Island Crisis Center, a not-for-profit organization located in a second floor space at 2740 Martin Avenue in Bellmore (behind the Bellmore Presbyterian Church), remains a leading first-line of help for many struggling through a personal crisis.
With a staff of 16 employees and nearly 200 highly-trained volunteers, LICC provides short-term counseling 24/7 every day of the year on their crisis hotline. In addition to taking phone calls on their hotline (679-1111), ‘Chat Live Long Island’ (www.longislandcrisiscenter.org) handles live chat sessions with counselors for those preferring to communicate online. Face-to-face support is also available as walk-in’s are welcomed from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
After offering short-term counseling, LICC refers clients to outside organizations prepared to continue with on-going help. Their impressive database of 800 support groups lists a wide variety of services currently available to many segments of the population.
LICC says that about one-third of calls are related to substance abuse problems. Problems can also be layered. According to the Council on Drug Abuse (CODA), LGBT youth are at a higher risk of turning to drugs because of self-esteem and identity issues.
LICC is experienced in handling life crises for all people throughout Long Island. Henry Jenri, a 26-year-old who credits the LICC and Pride for Youth for seeing him through “hard patches” in his life, strikes a chord that could resonate in people everywhere. With a smile and expression of relief, Henry states, “I feel more comfortable now as a person.”