For years, there has been a lack of help for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in Prince George’s County. Now, there is help in the form of the Youth Equality Project.

Ann Marie Binsner, head of the project, says there is a need for groups like hers given the climate of county residents towards LGBTQ persons. She says there is a two-fold challenge facing LGBTQ youth in Prince George’s.

“One would be their acceptance in our community,” Binsner said. “We have a socially conservative community where culturally, in particular, African-American youth, who are gay or are questioning their sexuality, are facing messages from their church community, home community or their families that it’s not acceptable and it’s not tolerable.”

Binsner says the kids are at a greater risk to go through further emotional stress because they’re ostracized by the only communities and the only people they know. So she said the second challenge would be putting more programs in place to help those kids.

“What’s missing is mental health therapy and support, social activities, centers where kids can come and just be who they are, and more intense services where people are trained to support a young person in developing their own identity, she said. “So for kids who need counseling or more intensive health treatment, that also is lacking.”

A 2007 Maryland youth risk behavior survey showed 13 percent of youth are bullied due to perceived sexual orientation. The survey showed that youth are twice as likely to be bullied upon entering high school then by the time they enter the 12th grade.

Those numbers, coupled with the fact that the Maryland Department of Human Resources estimates 20 percent of older foster youth in the county are LGBTQ, have people statewide saying the need for more resources for LGBTQ youth is of paramount importance to the county and the state.

“I’m a mother of four children, three of which are teenagers and I know firsthand how difficult those teenage years can be,” said Maryland First Lady Katie O’Malley.

“They’re even more difficult for LGBT youth, especially those in high school, that are being tormented and taunted by ignorant bullies, sometimes on a constant basis.”

Binsner says her group has been working hard to address this issue. She says from big things like providing mental health professionals to social outlets, the project has started to provide much needed support for the kids.

One thing the group has done and will continue to do is hold dances for the kids. Many times the kids are unable to attend school dances or other social activities with a same-sex partner without ridicule. The project has a plan to hold them quarterly after hosting two last year. The next dance is planned for February and the project is hoping to spread the word.

“We are becoming known,” she said. The kids are beginning to learn about us. They’re beginning to trust us enough to come to our events. They feel like it’s just a place where they can be themselves.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO