Mentoring the Washington area's LGBT Youth

Jun 07, 2012

Leading Youth Forward Everyday will be the Washington region's first LGBT-specific mentoring program. It will pair LGBT adults with young people age 16 to 24 and include cultural enrichment programs, field trips and educational activities. Its three-month pilot program starts in August.

Spencer Olson, LYFE's co-founder, will discuss what else LYFE has planned this year, and how to support gay and transgender teens in your community.

Hi everyone!

How do we as the LGBT community support young people in DC? I'm excited to talk about LYFE Mentors, a new program affiliated with the DC Center. The program will connect youth aged 16-24 with adult mentors and fellow LGBTQ youth. Let's get started!

How does one put his/her name in the hat to become a mentor?

The easiest way to add your name to the list of potential mentors is to visit our Web site. There's a simple form that needs to be filled!

How did you select the age range for the mentor program?

The current set age range for mentees, 16-24 years old, is designed for the pilot mentoring program starting this August. Due to current insurance and financial constraints we will not be able to connect 13-15 year olds with mentors. We're hoping to expand the program to youth 13-24.

If we do receive a lot of interest from 13-15 year olds, we will definitely be connecting them to other youth services such as SMYAL and Metro TeenAIDS.

Will LYFE Mentors have a booth or something at Pride this weekend so that I could stop by to find out more info?

LYFE Mentors will definitely be present at Pride this year! You can find us at the DC Center's table this Sunday, 11-6pm at Pennsylvania Ave & 7th St NW. It will  be a great opportunity for interested mentors to connect with LYFE's volunteers and sign up for more information.

I can't express how happy I am that a program like this is being founded in DC. Way to go. I have a question about why you feel it's so important for a mentor to a young gay person must also be gay. That may seem silly and obvious, but I worry that my son (who is 14 and just came out) won't be able to look to my husband as a mentor since he isn't gay. Can you outline why it's so important and the ways in which we straight adults can also provide support and mentoring, even if we can't provide what a gay mentor can? Many thanks and congrats on the great program.

This is a great question. What LYFE Mentors is focusing on is connecting LGBTQ youth with their fellow peers and LGBT adults who can provide insight and a listening ear to the common LGBT experience of coming out, self discovery, and hopefully provide the support and connection to resources available in DC.

When I think back on my own coming out experience, my parents played a crucial role in helping me feel confident, supported, and loved. A lot of youth unfortunately do not have that support. LYFE is simply trying to facilitate those mentoring relationships that are crucial to youth. I'm so excited to hear that you and your husband are supportive of your son!

How many kids are you expecting to have in your pilot program? What about when the program is in full swing?

We are expecting to have five youth in the initial pilot. As the program progresses we hope to match all interested youth with a mentor.

This might be a complicated question (which is why it might not be delved into in the story) but how is LYFE going to be funded? Are you looking for funding still or have you received everything you will need to complete the pilot program?

Funding is going to be a priority this summer as we continue developing the program and completing the training orientation. The DC Concerned Providers, a coalition of LGBTQ youth serving organizations focused on structural changes in D.C. and linking youth to care, has provided initial funds to start the program.

The easiest way to get involved with LYFE and help the program is to make a contribution. Please visit our page on the DC Center's Web site to find out more information.

How did you decide to come together to create this program. Was it unde some type of umbrella organization or structure?

LYFE Mentors was created through a partnership facilitated by the DC Concerned Providers. DCCP is a coalition of LGBTQ youth serving organizations and agencies working to overcome youth barriers to care and services. Stephanie Stines and myself co-chair the coalition and were presented with the idea of LYFE Mentors by Brooke Taylor who at the time an intern at the DC Center.

By facilitating structural changes and connecting program ideas to organizations or agencies that make a good fit, LYFE Mentors was born under the fiscal sponsorship of the DC Center.

To find out more information about the DC Concerned Providers, please contact Stephanie Stines at

Not to go nuts on the pedophilia issue, but how will you vet the mentors to make sure that inappropriate behavior doesn't take place? Maybe it's not as big of an issue as people make it out to be, but what if it is?

Thank you for asking this question. First, it's very important to mention that there is no data connecting LGBT adults to higher rates of sexual abuse to youth compared to any other community of adults.

The safety of all the mentees will always be the highest priority of LYFE and all potential mentors will have to complete a thorough background check and will be vetted by LYFE's staff. This is a similar process to how other youth serving organizations verify adult staff who work directly with youth.

We also plan to focus the interactions, especially at first, in group settings. We believe this will be a great opportunity for the youth to not only connect with their own mentor, but create friendships and support networks with the other youth participants.

Are they more likely to be homeless because their parents are kicking them out? Is that seriously still happening at that high of a rate? That seems crazy to me! It's not the 1950s!

LGBTQ youth are disproportionately impacted by homelessness. There are many factors that come into play. One is that youth are coming out early (on average 13 years old, compared to 23 a decade ago) and are more reliant on their parents and/or families for financial support and housing. Also, there are far less resources available for LGBTQ youth who are homeless. In D.C., the is only one LGBTQ specific homeless housing program that has eight beds and simply cannot meet the need. 

Once homeless, LGBTQ youth are at higher rates of victimization (58 percent have been sexually victimized compared to 33 percent of hetrosexual youth). LGBT homeless youth also commit suicide at much higher rates (62 percent) than heterosexual youth (29 percent).  These statistic are from the National Coalition for the Homeless.

It's also important to note that most homeless LGBTQ youth are invisible. It's common for youth to sleep in train stations, airports, or are crashing on couches and may not appear "homeless".

What can we do in Seattle to replicate this program? Will you come help?

LYFE Mentors would be excited to work with other individuals and organizations interested in starting local LGBTQ mentoring programs!

Please visit our Web site and send us an e-mail ( to discuss this further.

What do you think is the hardest thing that young gay people face today? I thought it was interesting that the article mentioned the LGBT's increased presence in the media, and that certainly makes a bit of difference, but it also doesn't seem to represent the more urban populations of gay folks like we have here in Washington.

This is a great questions that I believe has many answers. The challenges that LGBTQ youth face are just as diverse as the community is. I believe that bullying and harassment are a serious and major hardship experienced by most LGBTQ youth.

Whether it comes from peers at school, family members, or judgemental stares while waiting for the bus, the constant scrutiny has serious impacts. Nine out of 10 LGBT youth have experienced bullying at school, LGBT youth are bullied two to three times as often as heterosexual youth,  and more than a third of LGBT youth have attempted suicide.

Hi! How does mentorship fulfill needs that aren't already being met for LGBTQ youth?

Those of us involved in LYFE Mentors know that the program will not be able to fulfill all or even most the needs of LGBTQ youth. By providing a safe environment for youth to meeting fellow LGBTQ peers and connect with an older generation of adults, we're hoping to make a dent.

Part of the mentoring program will focus on providing youth information on the other resources provided to youth and LGBTQ youth specifically. By working as a team with other youth service providers, hopefully we can connect youth to the many resources offered in the city.

That hour flew by! Thank you all for your questions! I hope I was able to give more insight into LYFE Mentors and the goal of the program.

To find out more information and how to get involved, please visit our Web site and help spread the word!

If you would like to follow up with me on any questions I was not able to answer, please feel free to send me an e-mail at

Thank you and spread the love!

In This Chat
Spencer Olson
Spencer Olson is a co-founder of LYFE Mentors and also works as the community engagement coordinator with Metro TeenAIDS. Olson grew up outside of Seattle and graduated from George Washington University in 2010. Then, he spent a year working as a community organizer on environmental and political campaigns in California, Minnesota, and the District. At Metro TeenAIDS, Olson manages the STIGMA peer program targeting LGBTQ youth, provides support to the DC Concerned Providers Coalition and facilitates HIV/AIDS outreach in the District.
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