New York City is creating a multi-agency project in hopes of better coordinating — and expanding — existing services for LGBTQ youth. The effort includes a focus on health programs, homeless services, suicide prevention and added supports in the public schools.
First Lady Chirlane McCray launched the initiative Tuesday, which city officials are calling NYC Unity, by calling awareness to the specific needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning or queer youth. These young people are vulnerable to violence, bullying, homelessness and mental health issues, she said.
"To all of our city's LGBTQ young people — especially those just discovering their sexuality or identity, or those feeling isolated and afraid — take it from me, you are not alone," she said. "You are wonderful and New York City will always have your back."
Speaking from the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, McCray invoked her own personal story of being part of New York City's LGBT community in the late 1970s. She found support and encouragement from friends, though not necessarily from political leaders, she said.
Others on the podium also spoke about the city's progress and the growing political embrace of LGBTQ rights — as if they were elder LGBTQ statesmen and women passing on wisdom to the next generation.
City councilman Danny Dromm, a former teacher who chairs the education committee, said he came out as an openly gay teacher in 1992 in the very room in which NYC Unity was announced. Councilman Corey Johnson recalled that Act Up, a group which fought to call attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis, was founded in the same room as well.
"Activists were coming and plotting on how to infiltrate the health commissioner's office at the height of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, because we weren't getting a response," said Johnson. "And now we have the health commissioner sitting here in the room talking about how to change the Department of Health to be more responsive."
The city will invest $4.8 million in NYC Unity, which will include opening a new 24-hour drop-in center specifically for LGBTQ youth in Jamaica, Queens. The center is slated to open next month.
The city currently has one other 24 hour drop-in center for LGBTQ young people. It's in Harlem.
Other initiatives include expanding mental health and suicide prevention services; training health professionals; and convening a summit of more than 100 faith leaders this winter.