As every gay New Yorker knows, each weekend the streets of lower Manhattan are flooded with LGBT teenagers escaping their often dangerous situations in northern New Jersey, where there is no safe place for them to be themselves. But finally, Newark is working on making things more welcoming at home.
For the past six months, city and school officials have been meeting with gay advocates from the Newark Pride Alliance to start an after-school program for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning (LGBTQ) youths in the city. It would be the first center of its kind in Newark to deal with an often-ostracized population of young people. Booker mentioned the program in his State of the City speech, saying he would not tolerate harassment of city youth because of their sexual orientation. If everything works out, organizers said, the program will start out in a city school this fall and put Newark on the map with other cities that have been providing services for gay and lesbian youths for years.
“To put it simply, it’s been a long time coming,” said James Credle, executive director of the alliance. “Too many people treat them as less than human.” The program will be modeled after one run by the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a 30-year-old organization that serves LGBTQ youth in New York City. The institute deals with 1,000 youths a year from more than 200 ZIP codes in the metropolitan area and helps another 2,500 through outreach. Newark kids figure into that number, because they don’t have many options in New Jersey’s largest city.
Newark’s program will include social activities, HIV education, suicide prevention, and career counseling.