We do not say this lightly: we are worried about young people. Right now, LGBTQ+ youth and young people of color are increasingly the targets of hateful rhetoric, discriminatory policies and physical violence. The attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, and the police killings of unarmed young black men directly impact the youth we work with who are experiencing homelessness and other serious crises. This is all happening at a time when the pandemic has intensified a national youth mental health crisis.
Credit: Derek Thompson, The Atlantic; data from the CDC.
Attacks on LGBTQ+ Rights
Harmful speech toward LGBTQ+ youth and those who support them is not only happening by anonymous online trolls, but it’s being spread by elected officials, including recently by a Michigan state senator. Here at Ozone House, we know that words matter. How we talk about young people matters. The current K-12 budget put forth by the Michigan House of Representatives would penalize schools who allow students who are transgender to participate in sports based on their gender identity. State bills that restrict the access of transgender youth to health care, school facilities, and school athletics are threats to their health and well-being. We know that when LGBTQ+ youth have access to spaces that affirm their sexual orientation and gender identity, suicidal ideation goes down and positive health outcomes go up.
Attacks on Reproductive Rights
Young people experiencing homelessness and serious crises already have trouble accessing healthcare and essential resources. Denying safe and legal reproductive rights would create another barrier for them to receive care. Overturning Roe v. Wade would put more young people in danger, especially youth who are survivors of trafficking and sexual assault. Without access to safe reproductive care, we know that young people will turn to unsafe measures that put their lives at risk.
Police and Interpersonal Violence
Following the recent killing of Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer, we’ve seen young people experience real grief and trauma. We know that Black Americans are 2 times as likely to be shot and killed by police. As the Michigan Center for Youth Justice recently stated, “Far too often, young kids in our communities witness tragedies like this and fear their eventual encounter with law enforcement.” 70% of the young people coming to Ozone House are Black, Indigenous, or young people of color (BIPOC) and over half of all LGBTQ youth of color reported discrimination based on their race/ethnicity in the past year. This is one of the reasons why Ozone House chose to publicly support the local initiative for unarmed non-police response being championed by Coalition for Re-envisioning Our Safety (CROS).
Homicides and domestic violence are up 30% since the start of the pandemic, and in-school violence is at an all-time high. These society-wide problems, which disproportionately impact marginalized communities, require an investment in more prevention services. Unfortunately, there is not enough support for young people in Michigan worried about violence in their day-to-day lives. Michigan ranks second to last in the nation for available school counselors.
How We Support Young People
When young people come to Ozone House, they work with a diverse and experienced team who assist them in enhancing their skills and becoming the best version of themselves while they navigate serious crises. By using a Positive Youth Development Framework with our team, youth identify their own assets, their own agency and contributions within a supportive environment. As their self-esteem grows, things that were negatively impacting their life are replaced with a sense of self-worth. Young people learn that people care about them, they laugh and find hope, they connect with other youth and build a support network. They learn to trust others. They create goals, and take steps toward achieving those goals.
Ozone House will continue to show up for young people in crisis 24/7 and help them utilize their own tools to overcome violence, systemic racism, homophobia and transphobia in order to build a hopeful future for themselves and their community.
Please reach out to your elected officials to tell them young people need their rights protected, they need better policies to keep them safe, and they need more resources to help them succeed in the midst of all of these serious challenges.