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Glys Gala

Glys Gala
Supporting LGBT Youth

The mission of Gay and Lesbian Youth Services, better known as “GLYS,” is “to provide an accepting environment to enhance the personal growth of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in Western New York. GLYS advocates for community awareness and acceptance of young people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

Despite some stunning advances for LGBT people in recent years, this mission, sadly, is still very important. The fact is that things have certainly gotten better, but the world is still not a safe place for LGBT youth, not even in America, not even in Buffalo. For that reason, when Artvoice’s Stagefright columnist Javier Bustillos and I were asked to be honorary co-chairs of the GLYS 32nd Annual “GAYLA” dinner, to be held in Asbury Hall at Babeville on Thursday, November 12th, we were honored to say, “Yes!”

Javier and I have created a world for ourselves that is very circumscribed. We don’t come in contact with people like the four-times married county clerk in Kentucky who went to jail rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (In fact, Mayor Brown gave us a friendly hard time for getting married in New York City, and not in Buffalo)! We don’t get harassed at work or shunned by our family. And in our social world, we would never serve pizza at a wedding reception, so we don’t know whether we’d be denied service if we tried.

That is not true for many gay people in this country, even in Buffalo. According to statistics from the Human Rights Campaign, 92 percent of LGBT youth say that they hear negative messages about being LGBT. The top sources of these messages are their schools, the Internet, and their peers.

LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to say that they have been physically assaulted, kicked, or shoved at school.

24 percent of LGBT youth say their biggest problems are not feeling accepted by their family, trouble at school/bullying, and a fear to be out/open. By contrast, 22 percent of non-LGBT youth say that their biggest problems are trouble with classes, exams, and grades.

73 percent of LGBT youth say they are more honest about themselves online than in the real world.

The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that “20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. In comparison, the general youth population is only 10 percent LGBT.”

“People think,” says GLYS executive director, Marvin L. Henchbarger, “because we have made legislative and legal strides that everything must be hunky dory. Well it’s not, and young people are the most vulnerable.”

Henchbarger notes that it’s been over fifty years since the Civil Rights Act was passed, but if you ask any African American whether racism in America is a thing of the past, or if African American youth are safe everywhere they go, they’ll think you’re crazy.

“Young people do not have the tools to withstand hurtfulness,” observes Henchbarger. “They still see messages everywhere that there is something wrong with them. And now, in a world of mobile phones and social networking, those messages are transmitted instantaneously. When we were young, it might have been possible not to hear about the Stonewall riots, for example. That is not the case today. Kids hear this negativity. They know about that clerk in Kentucky, and too often they do not have the support or the ability to know that she has the problem, not them. LGBT kids are far from safe!”

Henchbarger immediately shifts to her more characteristic optimism.

“Having said that,” she continues, “I would add that young people in the eight counties of Western New York, if they have support at home and at school, if they have support in the church [or activities] they attend, then LGBT youth are thriving!”

There are statistics to support Henchbarger’s claim. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 75 percent of LGBT youth say that “most of their peers do not have a problem with their identity as LGBT.” 77 percent of LGBT youth say they “know things will get better.”

2015 began as a year of “Same Sex Marriage,” with the Supreme Court ruling making marriage legal for same sex couples on June 26, 2015. Quickly, however, momentum began to build around transgender issues which had gotten enormous global attention when, after much media speculation, Caitlyn Jenner came out as a transgender woman to Diane Sawyer on the 20/20 television show in April.

“We are very busy with transgender issues at GLYS these days,” affirms Henchbarger. “The governor signed the Dignity for All Students Act in 2010, and schools, frankly, don’t know what to do with it.”

New York State’s “Dignity for All Students Act” seeks to provide the State’s public elementary and secondary school students “with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.” Unlike previous protections, this law explicitly prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of actual or perceived gender, gender identity and gender expression, and compels schools, not only to respond to discrimination, but to take additional steps to ensure that schools do not become hostile environments for children. In other words, schools must train staff and offer inclusive curricula, as well as report incidents of harassment. That’s where GLYS can help.

“Frequently the responses that inexperienced lawyers recommend to schools are not really responses at all,” observes Henchbarger. “Students have rights and we need to help bring administrators, teachers, social workers, and everyone else who interacts with students up to speed.”

Henchbarger has just returned from a conference of school superintendents in Olean to help them navigate the issue.

“There has been wonderful progress, and so many LGBT kids are thriving today,” affirms Henchbarger, “but GLYS is still needed. We are not an organization that can just fold up its tent and go away.”

GLYS offers a variety of opportunities and services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth and their friends, ages 14-21. Those with questions can contact the organization at 716-855-0221, or at