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On Our Radar – An LGBTQ Big Brother Big Sisters of America

by Jean Ann Esselink on May 20, 2012

in Coming Out,families,Jean Ann Esselink,Living,Opinion

Post image for On Our Radar – An LGBTQ Big Brother Big Sisters of America

If they build it would you come? It is time to up the effort to rescue at-risk LGBTQ kids. The need to establish an LGBT Big Brother Big Sisters Of America is On Our Radar.

The gay community lost several teenagers this month. One of them was Jay ‘Corey’ Jones. We reported on his suicide here at The New Civil Rights Movement. We could tell you Corey was seventeen years old, went to Century High School, in Rochester Minnesota, and that around midnight on a Sunday night, he jumped off a pedestrian overpass. What we couldn’t tell you for sure is why. Corey had been open about being gay since he was a young boy. He went to a school promoting LGBT acceptance, where he was an active member of the gay/straight alliance group. He had friends who, after his death, spoke of Corey’s selfless character speaking up to defend other gay kids. He seems to have had a loving, supportive family. Now he leaves bereft a father who for the rest of his life will wonder the same thing we are all wondering; why Corey? Why?

We are left to speculate that it was bullying that caused Corey to give up on life. Corey’s father said he saw a change in his son since he began to attend Century High School, and that he knew there had been some verbal taunts. The school’s principal confirmed he was aware of an incident. In a way, we hope the cause was bullying, because we know about that problem, and all over the country people both gay and straight are trying to address it. But the leader of a gay and lesbian support group he attended said of Corey: “He was looking for something, but he just didn’t know what he was looking for.” So was it bullying? Or was there some dark monster Corey battled we don’t know about, because even with all the people who loved him, Corey had no one in his life he thought would understand whatever it was he was feeling?

The time has come to make it a mission of the gay community to save gay youth. Every drowning LGBTQ kid who reaches out a hand needs to find a strong adult LGBT hand to pull him up and keep his head above water until it starts to “get better.” The Trevor Project has made a good start with their suicide intervention program. A helpful next step might be for the gay community to build their own LGBT Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization, with their own mission: mentor struggling LGBTQ kids through the coming out process.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) is a tremendous organization. For fifty years they have been helping kids of single parents, but their mission is not the same as the gay community’s. For the most part, they seem to ignore the unique problem of LGBTQ kids, and some of their policies even work against them.

If you go to the BBBSA website, it will strike you immediately that there is no mention of the crisis situation with LGBT youth. There is a plea for men of color to volunteer. There is no such plea for gay men. How can that be?

If you type “LGBT” in the BBBSA website search box, the result is: “Nothing Found”. If you type in “gay” you get two results; one is about a presentation the group made at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland and the other identifies the picture of someone at a charity ball as Rudy Gay. If I had been a mother looking for help because my son had just confided in me he thought he was gay, and everything I said seemed to make things worse, I would have come away discouraged.

Here’s a dose of irony for you. In 2002, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America announced they would welcome both gay and lesbian volunteers who would be accepted and assigned in the same manner as any other volunteer. It was a courageous stance at the time, (and in many places continues to be a contested policy), and in the big picture, it is how we want the world to operate. But times are not normal. Until this LGBTQ youth crisis is over we need all of these gay men and lesbian women, who understand the significance of coming out, to mentor LGBTQ kids. Right now, every gay volunteer paired with a straight ”Little” (the BBBSA name for the kids they serve) denies an irreplaceable resource to an at-risk LGBTQ kid.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has one other policy that works against LGBTQ kids. Most chapters accept only boys who have no father or girls who have no mother in their lives. In the case of LGBTQ kids, this should not be a prohibitive factor in finding them a gay/lesbian mentor. Parents are often a big part of the problem. Any LGBTQ kid needing help through the coming out process should be able to find it, regardless of his family structure.

To their credit, many communities have recognized the shortcomings of BBBSA when it comes to the problems of LGBTQ kids and are trying to provide mentoring programs. But the problem has become so deep and so wide; it’s time to go big. Go national. Go high-profile. Make sure every kid and every parent knows where to go for help. And by the way, it won’t hurt in the battle for hearts and minds for the “Christian family” crowd to see the gay community come together to save the kids the “values” groups have failed.

The bottom line is there is no one who can help gay kids through the process of coming out like someone who has lived through it. No celebrity “It Gets Better” video can replace having a phone number in your pocket of someone you can count on to be there when you call. I don’t know if that would have been enough to save Corey. But I know I wish he had been given the option.

Perhaps an LGBTQ version of Big Brothers Big Sisters could operate in association with the veteran organization? There should be a separate website, and an 800 number where a teen, or a parent or a school counselor can get a speedy referral to the nearest local LGBTQ BBBSA group. But of course, none of this can happen without members of the LGBT community who will step up and volunteer to be a mentor. So I will ask my question again.

If they build it, would you come?

Today, I hope you will give a thought to Corey Jones and to all the potential Corey Joneses out there trying to cope. Then give some serious thought to becoming part of the solution. Until the day every struggling LGBTQ kid can find help, the need for a LGBT Big Brother Big Sisters Program will be On Our Radar.

Image: Wikimedia

Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat  from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter at @uncucumbered.


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dzrose May 20, 2012 at 10:05 am

I would and will mentor. How would we go about finding the steps needed to start this organization?

atalanta20 May 20, 2012 at 11:37 am

Perhaps an existing org like the Trevor Project might take this on? They already have the funds and national reach.

If someone wants to start from scratch,the Albert Kennedy Trust in the UK offers mentoring to LGBT young people, focusing on homeless and vulnerably housed youth (they offer other services too). They might be willing to provide advice on setting up a mentoring organisation over the pond.

SoulOnFire May 20, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I would definitely join. I heard another gay man say that he has been signed on with big brothers and sisters for about 2 years and they told him they do not think that he as a gay man would be situated with a child.

uncucumbered May 20, 2012 at 10:12 pm

While researching this column I found plenty of recent anecdotal evidence of gay volunteers being refused by their local BBBS chapter or signed up but never matched with a "Little"

Donandrog May 21, 2012 at 9:56 am

No doubt the need is there. I certainly could have used such a resource back in the day….
The problem I see, though,is how in the world would we implement such a program without the talibangelical right immediately screaming "See! Here's proof of their recruitment efforts. They're trying to turn all our dear children gay"? And then how long before we see the mentors being painted as molesters.

The need is great, but so are the risks….

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