Stand Out Youth, Inc
By Robert Dunn
As a sitting board member of First City Network (FCN) and the Executive Director for Stand Out Youth, Inc., fondly known as SOY to the youth of Stand Out, I was asked at a recent FCN Board meeting if I would give them some insight to the SOY LGBTQ youth community. In going through my oration of SOY’s purpose and the youth demographics, I saw expressions of astonishment and realized how much of this information was new to the FCN Board members. It occurred to me that many of the FCN members and non-members who follow the monthly newsletter would be equally surprised and proud of this local youth organization’s commitment and accomplishments.
Somewhere there is a written history of the 10 year evolution of SOY. Suffice it to say that in SOY, which was started under the auspices of FCN, incorporated as an independent 501(c) 3 organization with its own board of directors goals and mission in 2005.
The mission of SOY is to foster support and promote understanding of issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth. We seek to provide opportunities for these youth to envision a future for themselves as inspiring, engaged and valued individuals and citizens. In doing so, we provide a safe space for them to meet twice a week where they can find support, encouragement and opportunities to discover the value of their individuality, the strength of their differences, and the reassurance of their similarity to all youth.
I recall my first meeting as a volunteer youth facilitator, and every meeting afterward for the next three months, sitting alone reading a book for the evening. Back then we met on Tuesday evenings and our youth age range was 16 to 21. On January 9, 2007, the first two youth crossed the threshold. Both youth were 16 years old, with one coming from a private school local to Savannah, and the other from a public school in Richmond Hill. Both were as different in appearance and opinions as you could possibly get. It was rich, prep, republican meets poor, goth, anti-establishment libertarian. I had no idea how a youth group could be formed from this collaboration, but was certain I would be sitting alone again the next week. However, I was not.
Today we are as diverse and polarized as we were that 9th day of January in 2007. Fast forward, 2012, and the first quarter of this year:
- We remain an independent, non-profit 501(c) 3 organization managed by an all-adult volunteer board and staff.
- Our youth program now serves youth aged 14 to 23 who come from McIntosh, Liberty, Effingham and Chatham counties.
- We provide twice a week confidential youth group meetings facilitated by trained volunteers.
- We bridge the absence of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) in the 9 middle schools and 10 high schools operating in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and in the neighboring county school systems.
- Our median age is 19.2, with 41 first time attendees in 2012.
- In the first ten weeks of 2011, total attendance at all meetings was 164 youth, an average of 14 each general meeting and 7 each movie night. During the first ten weeks of 2012, that number has more than doubled, with total attendance at all meetings being 335 youth. Average attendance at general meetings climbed to 24, a 71% increase.
- We offer access to LGBTQ books and videos that are age-appropriate and educational, and provide access to HIV education, counseling and testing.
Tracking the attendance patterns of individual youth indicates that the popularity of the meetings has increased, with youth coming more consistently and attending more meetings.
With summer months upon us, and traditionally a lower attendance during this period, we look back over the period of July 2011 through June 2012 and this is what we see:
Total number meetings recorded: 87
Movie nights: 34
Total attendance, all meetings (bodies through the doors): 1,234
Total number of individuals: 138
Average age: 19.2
Average attendance, movie nights: 6.7
Average attendance, Fridays: 19.0
Gender (self-identified – they chose the words they like best):
Female: 61 (44.2%)
FTM: 3 (2.2%)
Genderneutral: 2 (1.5%)
M/F: 1 (0.7%)
Male: 54 (39.1%)
MTF: 2 (1.5%)
Not specified: 13 9.4%
Trans-female: 1 (0.7%)
Transgender: 1 (0.7%)
Orientation (self-identified – they chose the words they like best):
Asexual: 3 (2.2%)
Bisexual: 17 (12.3%)
Gay: 41 (29.6%)
Homosexual: 3 (2.2%)
Lesbian: 23 (16.7%)
Not specified: 12 (8.7%)
Other: 2 (1.5%)
Pansexual: 16 (11.6%)
Queer: 3 (2.2%)
Straight: 18 (13.0%)
Asian: 3 (2.2%)
Black: 14 (10.1%)
Hispanic/Latino: 5 (3.6%)
Multiracial: 12 (8.7%)
Native American: 3 (2.2%)
Not specified: 30 (21.8%)
Other: 6 (4.3%)
Pacific Islander: 1 (0.7%)
White: 64 (46.4%)
Over the years we have sometimes struggled to keep the doors open. However, through the support and generosity of organizations such as Bay Street Theater, First City Network, Gay Savannah Online Magazine and Savannah Pride, and through the countless number of individuals who have volunteered from all realms within the SOY organization, giving freely of their personal time, money and resources, we have been able to not only keep the doors open, but thrive.
We enjoy strong ties to the youth of SCAD’s LGBTQ youth organization, Queers and Allies, and we enjoy the many opportunities which we have been given to grow, learn, lead, and give back to the broader community.
As mentioned before, Stand Out Youth now meets twice weekly: Wednesdays are movie nights, with LGBTQ films ranging from drama to comedy to documentary, followed by discussion. Friday nights are general meeting nights, with presentations, discussions, and activities aimed at instilling confidence and self-esteem, educating youth on LGBTQ history, and tackling many of the difficult issues that accompany the passage from adolescence to adulthood.
If you would like to know more about Stand Out Youth, please visit our website at www.standoutyouth.org. If you would like to make a tax deductible monetary donation to Stand Out Youth, your donation can be sent to Stand Out Youth, Inc., P.O.Box 2983, Savannah, GA. 31402. If you would like to know of volunteer opportunities please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.