In Ventura County, there is a vulnerable population that is being underserved and underrepresented within the community. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is struggling to find positive resources that cater to the specific needs of the population, in particular to youth of transitional ages (16-25). Over the recent years, California has made significant progress in addressing and highlighting the issues and the disadvantages that face the LGBT community, but there is still much more ground to gain. In a time when gay rights are such a hot topic in the public media and have become so common, youth are coming to terms with their orientation at a much younger age. Although they have reached a difficult level of self-acceptance and are ready to face the world comfortable in their own skins, the world may not be quite ready to receive them with open arms. One out of three LGBT youth will be kicked out of his or her home due to non-acceptance by a parent or guardian. It is believed that 25 percent of homeless youth on the streets are LGBT.
Ever since the closure of the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance in June of 2011, Ventura County has struggled to rebuild the important services that were once available to the LGBT population. The Ventura County Rainbow Alliance offered mental health services, free rapid HIV/AIDS testing, ran support groups for youth as well as adults, ran food pantries and encouraged positive community involvement; but most importantly, it provided a safe space for youth to interact among their peers without fear of judgment or ridicule. Since then, there have been no new programs developed to cater to the individual needs of LGBT youth. LGBT youth need to feel connected to something and to be a part of something great, especially those who have been displaced by their own families. Members of the LGBT community would much rather interact with someone with a lifestyle similar to theirs, particularly with those familiar with the coming-out process.
The struggles that questioning youth encounter throughout different stages of their lives are very unique and challenging. The coming-out process can be difficult, which is only the beginning of the social obstacles that one must overcome. Community resources are needed to support youth who are questioning their orientation; it can be a trying time for a young person. A minor relies solely on the guardian for basic needs and survival (food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, etc.); therefore, without that support, the youth does not have many options and could fall victim to a number of disparities possible disparities (homelessness, prostitution, substance abuse, self-injurious behavior, suicide). LGBT youth are in need of unique and tailored services to address the specific issues and struggles they face in the community. It seems that in order to receive services (financial assistance, access to food pantries, mental health services), the youth must belong to some at risk population or system (foster system, child welfare, probation), as if the struggles attached to sexual orientation were not enough.
LBGT youth are at high risk of discrimination and prejudices, and without proper support they can face true disadvantages in their lives. LGBT youth are looking for a place to belong; and without any positive resources or allies, it is easy for them to get lost and become susceptible to negative influences. It is extremely important to increase awareness about the lack of support services that are available to LGBT youth and to broadcast the need for them in Ventura County. Currently, there is no legislation or policy that protects the rights to access services and resources for the LGBT community; and even if there were, Ventura County has none available that caters to the very individualized and critical needs of the LGBT community. It would be beneficial to bring back the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance to the community because it provided a multitude of services, in one concentrated location, that were tailored to the LGBT community. It is important to reach out and show support for the community, maybe attend the local Ventura County Pride Weekend (August 23-25) at Mission Park in Ventura to gain some insight and knowledge on how to better support the LGBT community. LGBT transitional-aged youth are in desperate need of support and resources in order to feel comfortable and safe with their orientation, as well as to develop positive networks that will assist them to live positive, healthy lives.
Ruben Ramirez is University of Southern California graduate student in professional social work, as well as a Ventura County resident. This opinion piece has appeared in other periodicals in Ventura County.