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JASMYN Brings Hope to LGBTQ Youths with Health, Wholeness, and Protection

By Paul Rowe

Through providing health and wholeness services, offering youth development opportunities, and bringing people and resources together in a concentrated effort, the JASMYN campus provides a safe place for LGBTQ youths ages thirteen to twenty-three. Many of these young people come here after having experienced the pain of family or community rejection because of their orientation, gender identity, or expression.

Thankfully, JASMYN provides these individuals with safety-net services in the form of their food pantry and case management team, HIV risk-reduction education and testing, a weekly STI clinic in partnership with the Duval County Health Department, and their forthcoming David Bohnett CyberCenter, a high-tech center that will increase access to technology and web-based tools for JASMYN youth.

Engagement with Duval Country Public schools, particularly in support of Gay-Straight Alliances, in more than twenty middle schools and high schools helps create a safer environment for young people on school grounds. JASMYN actively supports these programs providing structure and leadership opportunities for students who may feel they have been abandoned.

Despite much progress over the last ten years, there are still many areas where young people in the Jacksonville community face extreme challenges, particular with employment, access to culturally-competent health care, and education. In response to Jacksonville's HIV outbreak, JASMYN launched its #AIDSFreeJAX campaign, which puts national, evidence-based best practices for young people to work to help create an AIDS-Free Generation.

"Reducing family rejection for young people is the best way to reduce the number of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness," says Director of Development Angela Strain. "JASMYN's role is that of community convener and cultural-competency trainer is this effort, particularly working with the foster care system, schools, healthcare providers, community-based agencies, and regional employers to provide accurate, fact-based, empathetic information that supports young people by supporting the adults and advocates who can be their champions across the community."

The annual Teaching Respect for All conference for teachers, guidance counselors, and others in education exemplifies this worthy effort. Community education is just one battlefront, however. JASMYN works hands-on with families and parents on a case-by-case basis.

"While supportive parents can receive group support from our colleagues at PFLAG-Jacksonville, often their first call is to JASMYN when their young person is struggling," says Strain. "Whenever we can, we work towards a safe home environment for young people, whether that be with parents or supportive extended family."

According to the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 71% of youths in Duval County who identify as LGB or Questioning Youth reported being harassed, teased, bullied, threatened, or sexually assaulted on school grounds. 3.9% of these young people report serious depression, with 39.3% reporting suicidal ideation. A targeted outreach project implemented by JASMYN reported close to 60% of young people experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ.

"There are still no legal protections in hiring, housing, or public accommodation for LGBT persons in Jacksonville. JASMYN young people, especially Transgender youth, regularly report discrimination in housing, employment, and even healthcare, though there is no monitoring entity to aggregate the data since no legal protections exist," says Strain.

"The JASMYN Board determined that our laser focus must remain on the health and wholeness of young people ages 13-23, but that we must also continue to bring people and resources together to promote equality and human rights."

Through this work, JASMYN can achieve its vision that LGBTQ youths can experience in their futures a Northeast Florida where they are affirmed in their identities, bringing them unprecedented confidence in their futures and value in their lives. In its twenty-one year history, JASMYN has helped shape the lives of over twenty thousand youths, and doesn't plan on stopping any time soon.

For more information, please visit their website!

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