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A Local Program Interview on LGBT Youth Initiatives

Ann Marie Foley Binsner, Executive Director, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)/Prince George’s County in Hyattsville, MD

Read about the Prince George’s County LGBTQ Task Force, created with the goal for youth to have a safe community to grow and thrive.

How did your work with LGBT youth start?

In 2006, some of our CASA volunteers were speaking up that many of their CASA youth were coming out to them and we were in need of resources. At the National CASA Conference, I attended a workshop by Child Welfare League of America about LGBT youth. The presenter gave us a challenge: talk to your DSS directors and offer to work together. So I made an appointment and we got started!

Why is this important in your community?

There were virtually no services in Prince George’s county at the time. We felt it was important to have resources available. We all needed training to better work with and advocate for these youth.

What initiatives are you currently working on around LGBT youth?

The LGBTQ Task Force started meeting in 2006 and went fully public with all of our goals and initiatives in 2008. To meet our goal of having safe communities for youth to grow and thrive, we worked with stakeholders in the schools, nonprofits, child welfare, family services, health department, and elsewhere.

Our focus areas:

1.      Training and community education

2.      Youth engagement

3.      Policy

4.      Resource development

The task force is an all volunteer group. Within three to four months of starting, we had all CPS, foster care, adoption and CASA staff trained on issues LGBT youth face to improve understanding and better services. DSS sponsored a full-day training and made it available to all county government agencies including all people working with youth. We have provided training to over 1,000 people since 2006. One of our task force members is a police officer. She was able to make the training available so all Prince George’s County police officers were trained! We also created a LGBTQ resource guide for youth.

For our youth engagement piece we have hosted dances and a focus group. We are now working on connecting with gay/straight alliances in the school to hold a youth leadership conference. We also have a Youth Equality Project Facebook page.

What is your greatest achievement since starting these initiatives?

Definitely starting the conversation was the best thing we could have done. Not everyone is comfortable about talking about this. It was great to get everyone talking, comfortable and aware of the challenges facing these kids, their special needs and development.

We’re called by people from around the county as a resource – but there’s still a lot of work to do. We still don’t have a program that specifically serves LGBT youth, but we do have service providers who are better prepared to serve these youth.

How did your community initially respond to your initiatives? Were you nervous with rolling it out? Were you surprised with any reactions?

I was really nervous – it was my own insecurities and lack of knowledge that made me nervous. But I was really shocked (and really happy!) that people with authority, like the court system, were really supportive. By and large, everyone has been really supportive. We do get some resistance from front line staff and teachers; there are people who have personal value issues that they cannot get over, but we work on this in training.

We help people become comfortable. We’re not talking about sex; we’re talking about youth development. The resistance and reluctance is never quite as bad as we think it will be.

What advice would you have for other CASA/GAL programs interested in starting a LGBT initiative in their community?

Have the conversation and identify it as a need. Find out what your partners are being willing to do and partner with you. But understand that it is hard work. We committed to staffing the task force so we knew that the work was being done and that there was forward movement. CASA programs don’t need to take it on, but it needs to be identified.

Resources to get you started and trained are out there! The LGBT community is very generous and if you are sincere in wanting to help young people, they will help you and give you the support you need.


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