Rainbow Youth Project: Helping Those In Need

Rainbow Youth Project logo

To hear Lance Preston tell it, the founding of the Rainbow Youth Project (RYP) was something of a fluke.

In the latter stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Preston came down with a rather nasty infection, requiring several months of recovering at home to recuperate. More out of boredom than anything, he ended up taking a deep dive into social media. That was when he made what was, for him, a distressing discovery.

The time frame was when the far-right was gearing up its culture war against the LGBTQ+ community, especially attacking trans youth. Preston could not believe the level of hate being hurled at those kids, and the resulting emotional trauma and mental health problems these children had to suffer.

Preston saw a need, and was determined to do something about it.

Once he recovered, Preston sought out some like-minded friends and colleagues and came up with the concept of RYP. The actual formal founding of the group in March 2022 was a relatively quick process, and with that, they got to work.

RYP’s initial focus was to assist LGBTQ+ youth aged 18 and younger in accessing free mental health and suicide prevention counseling. To do this, RYP forges partnerships with universities, medical centers and clinics across the country, allowing these children to get the mental health care and counseling they so desperately need.

Preston sings the praises of these partners, who provide their services for free.

“These partners are absolutely essential,” he says “There’s no way we could do the job without them.”

Rainbow Youth is headquartered in Indianapolis, but its reach is nationwide, made so by the fact that RYP does not provide direct services, itself; rather it serves as a facilitator, enabling — though their partnerships — LGBTQ+ youth or their families to get the help they require. They have agents, case workers and crisis managers who travel coast to coast, border to border.

When RYP first started, they set up a crisis line for LGBTQ+ youth in need to reach out for help. Initially, they would get 100 calls a month. Now, they get calls from 300 kids each day.

RYP’s mission has rapidly evolved to include a whole host of needs in a more comprehensive social welfare model. They have a homeless youth program, because many LGBTQ+ kids get tossed onto the street when they come out. They now assist in providing gender-affirming health care for trans persons over 18, because more and more states are outlawing it.

But sometimes the greatest need for an LGBTQ+ kid’s family is that of cold hard cash. The tragic fact is, despite Rainbow Youth’s great efforts and success rates, not every kid at risk for suicide is saved — and what family buys life insurance for a 14-year-old? Where is a grieving mother to turn when a funeral home says it won’t even pick up a child’s body without thousands of dollars up front?

It’s for situations like this that RYP maintains an emergency fund, which sadly, is always chronically short. While Preston is fulsome in his praise of RYP’s donors, all too often, the need outweighs the resources. All too often, Preston says, “I, or a case worker, or a crisis manager, will pull out a personal Amex to make sure that an urgent need is met.”

Everyone who works for Rainbow Youth Project does so on a volunteer basis. No one, including founder and CEO Lance Preston, draws any sort of salary. Everyone has a full-time day job, but still manages to put in at least 20 or 30 hours a week helping the kids.

Preston recounted a story involving MAGA pundit Tucker Carlson that. Not long before his abrupt dismissal from Fox News, Carlson spoke the usual Republican falsehoods on his now-defunct talk show. Preston felt the need to respond in a tweet stating, “Tucker Carlson is afraid gun-toting trans people will start ‘political violence’ – ‘They want to be able to commit it and they want you defenseless so you can’t fight back.’” Included in the tweet was a link to an LGBTQ Nation story calling out the television personality. At presstime, the tweet has 1.3 million views and more than 1,000 retweets. In short order, the organization was inundated with more than 200,000 hostile emails from MAGA supporters.

Many of the emails were so threatening that, for safety’s sake, Preston was urged by colleagues to delete his response to Carlson. Preston stood fast, feeling it was necessary to stand up for what they believe in and show their support of the kids and families in need of support.

In the end, they prevailed, and Carlson is currently unemployed.

Currently, the far-right’s culture war against LGBTQ+ youth and their families will continue and escalate. In the face of that, Rainbow Youth Project and its partners are committed to continuing to helping LGBTQ+ youth and their families.

For more information on Rainbow Youth Project, visit rainbowyouthproject.org and on all the major social media platforms.

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