This summer, New York City will launch the nation’s largest and most comprehensive workforce development program for at-risk LGBTQ youth. The initiative is viewed as a pilot for similar programs in cities nationwide. Recent studies have shown LGBTQ people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, particularly financially.
The program is targeted toward young adults who are homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness. The goal is to establish long-term employment and a secure financial future for LGBTQ youth who are most at risk of being jobless and spiraling into life-long adult poverty.
The program will invest $2.6 million dollars that will provide LGBTQ youth with quality jobs and educational opportunities. Additionally, the program will offer access to job training, paid internships and mental health services to young adults aged 16 to 24.
The program is an offshoot of the NYC Unity Project, a citywide effort to help at-risk LGBTQ youth launched in 2017 by New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio. In announcing the program, de Blasio said it will provide much needed resources “after a difficult year.”
The initiative includes the expansion of 24-hour youth drop-in centers to every NYC borough. The program would also expand LGBTQ-affirming mental health training programs and public awareness campaigns across the city.
The initial project helped lay the foundation for the newest program, which provides a minimum of two years of direct services to trainees.
In a statement, McCray said Unity Works “marks the first time that any city has taken this particular set of comprehensive steps to provide training, mental health services and social supports that are critical to long-term success and stability for LGBTQI youth.”
Ashe McGovern was appointed to serve as first Senior Policy Advisor for LGBTQ Initiatives in the NYC Mayor’s Office and as inaugural Executive Director of the NYC Unity Project. McGovern told the media, “I can say unequivocally if the first lady was not at City Hall championing this project, it wouldn’t exist. She’s personally committed to it. She’s pushed for it.”
The pilot program will be run through the Department of Youth and Community Development in partnership with the NYC Center for Youth Employment. Unity Works is collaborating with The Ali Forney Center (AFC), which is one of the largest organizations that help combat the homelessness epidemic for LGBTQ youth.
AFC currently offers programs such as HIV prevention, outreach and transitional living services. According to a study by the Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services (ESC) with HRC which PGN previously reported on, LGBTQ street youth experience greater levels of abuse than their heterosexual counterparts.
Over the next four years, the program hopes to make the workforce more inclusive for LGBTQ individuals.
Initially slated for summer 2020, the program was postponed to July 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The program has also pledged to combat employment discrimination for LGBTQ+ community members. The Supreme Court ruled in 2020 in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title Vll of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
McGovern told media that LGBTQ people are in need of the kind of help that the program will offer
“Nondiscrimination policies aren’t self-actualizing,” McGovern said. “They don’t automatically create a pathway for success for people who have been marginalized their whole lives and who have been rejected by their families.”
McGovern added, “We need to give young people the skills to be competitive for jobs — even entry-level jobs. It’s an important paradigm shift.”
A recent survey by The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, found 35 percent of LGBTQ young people experience employment discrimination. For young trans people, that percentage is even higher at 61 percent.
As PGN has previously reported in several in-depth investigations, as many as 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Rejected or ejected by their families, many now-homeless LGBTQ youth travel to cities like New York and Philadelphia to connect with other LGBTQ people.
But as NYC Unity notes, “Without a permanent address, suitable work clothes or even reliable internet, they can be locked out of the job market.”
In addition to two years of direct services, Unity Works participants will receive an additional year of followup from LGBTQ-affirming case workers and therapists.
Staff will help participants with changing identity documents and accessing public benefits — critical issues that Unity Works website already offers. The new program requires that participating agencies and employers demonstrate cultural responsiveness and competency.
The new program is meant to create a sense of empowerment and hopefulness in a demographic that has most often been ignored with regard to long-term initiatives. The need is clearly great as the homelessness and unemployment numbers reveal.
The website explains the breadth of the program, noting, “The NYC Unity Project is the first-ever focused, citywide commitment to supporting and empowering LGBTQ young people. Statistically, NYC’s LGBTQ youth fare better than their peers in other cities. But even in NYC, many vulnerable LGBTQ young people fall through the cracks and continue to struggle as a result of discrimination, rejection, and mistreatment.”
The upbeat messaging of the Unity Project is inviting, explaining that “Even while facing these struggles, LGBTQ young people remain brilliant and resilient. The NYC Unity Project’s goal is to build and strengthen our city’s programs so that LGBTQ young people are free to not only survive, but grow and thrive.”
NYC Unity asserts, “NYC has been a major center of life for LGBTQ communities for decades. As home to the largest population of LGBTQ people in the country, we must constantly strive to be the most supportive city that we can be.”
To learn more, visit the Project on the web or contact them at: 1-800-246-4646.