The board of directors of The Attic Youth Center recently appointed former board president Jasper Liem, LCSW, as the interim executive director of the organization. The Attic’s former executive director, John Fisher-Klein, who was hired in the fall of 2021, vacated the position due to health reasons, Liem said.
“Jasper Liem’s commitment to The Attic Youth Center, whether as board president, or interim director, as well as his substantial experience and expertise, make him the perfect leader,” Attic Board Vice President Bill Adair, said in a press release.
In addition to having a history with The Attic, Liem has been an LGBTQ+ advocate and a member of the community since high school, where he started his school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance. Liem is openly transmasculine.
“This is an amazing team to work with,” Liem said about The Attic. “The mission is something that I have been passionate about personally for a long time.”
In the short term, Liam hopes to have The Attic shift out of doing hybrid and virtual programming and have youth come back to the center’s physical space. He and the team have also been working to bolster the organization’s life skills programming and counseling services.
“The mental health needs for young folks especially, and even more so for marginalized folks has been on the rise because of COVID,” Liem said. “One of my goals is to increase our capacity as an organization and among our staff to meet that need.”
Liem’s experience working in clinical healthcare settings helps inform his work at The Attic. He previously worked in behavioral health consultation at Philadelphia FIGHT’s Y-HEP Adolescent and Young Adult Health Center, and he was part of the team that developed the gender-affirming healthcare program at Y-HEP and throughout FIGHT’s clinics. His work at FIGHT was the basis of his collaborative history with The Attic.
“Jasper first and foremost has a social work background, has a clinical background in addition to lived experience as a transmasculine person,” said Shana Williams, associate director of The Attic. “I think it brings a different lens and perspective to the work we’ve always done. I think Jasper and I have some of the same perspective in regards to the work and how we can support the youth. I’m looking forward to both of us working together to just reimagine and reignite all of the wonderful things that the Attic does.”
Liem also framed the importance of youth mental healthcare in the context of the anti-trans legislation that many state lawmakers have been trying to pass. Earlier this month the Pa. House passed HB 972, the “Protect Women’s Sports Act,” which prohibits trans girls and women from taking part in scholastic and collegiate girls and women’s sports teams.
“Across the country I think young trans folks are seeing this legislative push, and even if it doesn’t affect them directly because of where they live, we know it affects all of our mental health and our sense of safety and well-being,” he said. “At the end of the day what the Attic does so well is provide a space for LGBTQ youth to know they belong. It’s life-saving work.”
Williams acknowledged that The Attic has undergone transition in the last few years due to the pandemic and changes in leadership. In 2019, the organization was investigated following allegations that former employees experienced racial discrimination and that a minor was sexually assaulted on the organization’s premises. A 2021 report from Attic leadership failed to disclose whether or not the allegations were true.
Williams said that she hopes that Liem will contribute to achieving structural soundness in the organization, and that his leadership style will fit in with the cohesion of the staff.
“Just hoping Jasper can lend to supporting the overall camaraderie, the culture, cultivating how we work as a team at the Attic,” Williams said.
Liem added that he’s looking forward to celebrating the Attic’s 30th anniversary next year.
“It’s hard for us to quantify how much adversity the Attic has prevented for a lot of LGBTQ Philadelphians, but we know that the impact in people’s lives has been amazing,” he said.