Speak Your Mind! LGBTQ+ Youth Step Up

by Stars Training Academy   5 Comments


Guest Blog by Brian Goldman

There is growing recognition of the need to better support, educate and mentor vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth within TAY programs. An innovative program, called the Speak Your Mind Academy was recently launched to help meet this need. Stars Behavioral Health Group partnered with the Long Beach LGBT Center and Youth in Mind (under a contract awarded by the Department of Mental Health) to train enthusiastic LGBTQ+ identified young people to educate their communities on mental health awareness, stigma identification and advocacy issues. To date, 23 youth have graduated from the program and have facilitated over 40 advocacy presentations across Los Angeles County based on the topics they learned in the academy.

It was an amazing learning experience for all involved. Having LGBTQ+ TAY individuals “speaking their mind” about issues that they have faced and discussing the importance of improving the quality of care for LGBTQ+ community members sends a powerful message. Adult providers can train TAY staff to gain more insight and awareness, but when it comes from the voices of our own LGBTQ+ TAY individuals, that’s when the truth, advocacy and insight become apparent. The Academy trainees will begin to train communities from their perspective, which only helps others to really grasp the stigma from a firsthand experience that many LGBTQ+ TAY youth encounter on a daily basis. The hope is that many people from different communities will hear the voices of these incredible young people, and begin to see that LGBTQ+ people are not a stereotype, which hopefully will enhance resiliency and decrease the risk factors from rejection.

TAY-aged youth face many challenges regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. Yet, at the same time LGBTQ+ youth have a higher rate of mental health issues than their heterosexual peers. This stems from the rejecting factors that many TAY-aged youth experience either from family members, their community, and society. Caitlyn Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project (based in San Francisco) has done tremendous work gathering data that demonstrates that LGBTQ+ youth from rejecting backgrounds experience higher rates of depression, suicidal ideation, homelessness, contracting HIV or sexually transmitted diseases, etc.

What can these 23 empowered youth do about this? Three simple actions: they can educate; they can support; and they can advocate. These youth can help ensure that TAY program staff are made aware how culture, religion, and our own belief systems can play a role in offering the most effective supports. By sharing their own stories and insights, they can sensitize providers to some of the unique challenges that LGBTQ+ youth are dealing with in their lives.

The Speak Your Mind Academy Trainees were vocal regarding LGBTQ+ individuals having the same legal rights, and support as any youth would need. The key factor is to refrain from shaming. Many of the Speak Your Mind Academy Trainees will say that they feel as though their sexual orientation or gender identity is the only thing some people see. They want to be seen as people who think and feel like everyone else. Yet, when faced with rejection or when negative comments are made around their sexuality or gender, that is when risk factors increase. When LGBTQ+ TAY youth are already facing rejection from family, their community and society, they will look to their TAY providers to provide that safe zone. This should be a place where they can go and be themselves while being treated with compassion, nurturance and unconditional support — and inspire 23 more LBGBTQ+ youth to speak their minds.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Gaddis May 30, 2017 at 8:25 pm

Best of luck on your new project! In our ongoing effort to quality service for the TAY population, we would like to arrange a training for our staff and the other SPA 1 DMH Mental Health providers. We would be happy to host in our large multipurpose room in Lancaster, preferably over the summer. Please advise if that is possible. Thank you.

Donna Gaddis
Compliance Manager
The Children’s Center of the Antelope Valley
661-949-1206 x236


Joanna Cain May 31, 2017 at 6:06 am

How do I get transgendered youth in contact with your group. Please advise. Thank you in advance.


Sandy Villano August 25, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Please have any interested transgendered youth contact Joel Gemino at the Long Beach LGBTQ Center in Long Beach (562) 434-4455.


Sarah G Volunteer Coordinator June 5, 2017 at 8:18 pm


My name is Sarah, and I’m the Volunteer Coordinator for the Huntington Beach Youth Shelter. I’m curious about how the Speak Your Mind Trainees will be providing trainings and whether they could come to our shelter to help train our staff.


Sarah Russ


Sandy Villano August 25, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Hi Sarah:

I am sorry for the delay in responding to your request. We would be happy to provide one of our LGBTQ speakers to train your staff at your shelter. Please call or email me so we can make arrangements for a presentation. svillano@starsinc.com (714) 721-4022


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