A message from our director, Dexter Foxworth
Last week I celebrated the landmark victory for equality as the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and returned marriage equality to California. Over at Zebra Coalition® we had a celebration of our own as we welcomed our 100th youth to our Zebra Coalition® family for case management, counseling and housing. As our ever expanding family grows I am reminded that while we are making strides with marriage equality that we have many more steps to be taken for full equality, especially for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
In 2010, I was overseas working for a Fortune 500 company. During my business travels I came across many articles and statistics on LGBT youth – gay youth are four times as likely to have attempted suicide; more than 50 percent of transgender youth have had at least one suicide attempt; 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT; LGBT youth are two times more likely than their peers to be assaulted at school. I was horrified as I read these numbers. How could I be so unaware, so ignorant, to the scope of these issues?
The exposure to those alarming numbers angered me. I began reading more and as I was introduced to these real life scenarios my frustration turned into a goal to do something about it and get involved to help those that need our help most, our LGBT youth. Little did I know at the time that this new commitment would lead to a journey that would change my life completely.
In February 2012, I took a leap and began my journey as Zebra Coalition’s® new director. I had no experience working with youth, my background was not in mental health counseling nor did I know anything about social work. All I had to assist me on this new mission was the anger and frustration that ignited this new passion to help our community’s LGBT youth. I wasn’t going to let lack of experience stand in my way.
As my journey began I quickly learned that statistics don’t adequately express what these youth face. The suffering; the psychological trauma of being rejected by family and friends; the pain from sexual and physical abuse; the hunger and chronic sleep deprivation from living on the streets are things these young people are dealing with daily. I saw how these vulnerable kids are placed in harm’s way. My anger intensified as I realized that these LGBT kids were being completely failed by their families, the adults in their lives and our overall community. But I was most frustrated with the lack of awareness of and response from the broader LGBT community. If LGBT organizations, donors and political leaders did not demand protection for these kids, then who else would possibly advocate for them?
Today, Zebra Coalition® is the only organization in Central Florida that can provide a full continuum of services to LGBT+ youth. We are the only organization dedicated to homeless LGBT+ youth in Central Florida and offer short-term housing facilities. We also offer a drop-in center where more than 1,400 youth have received food, clothing, showers, free medical and mental-health care, and access to activities and specialized groups.
Youth are given proper nurturing and support during their journey with us thanks to our Coalition network of social service providers, government agencies, schools, and colleges and universities that provide a full continuum of services. Eventually, youth find their strength and we celebrate as they learn to accept themselves, go off to college, get a job or move out on their own. I am full of pride for the success of so many of our kids. Their resilience inspires me.
The scope and quality of our services would not be possible without the generous support of our 22 Coalition partners, donors and volunteers. But we cannot let our success shield us. There is still much work to be done and we need your help
If LGBT youth are denied the love and protection of their parents, friends and community then they need to find a safe haven within the LGBT and allied community. There is no clearer way to demonstrate such love and protection than by making sure these kids are given a safe, healthy and supportive environment.
Please join us on our journey to foster hope, dignity and self-respect in LGBT+ youth.
Here’s how you can help…
Thank you so much for joining me on this journey.
Director, Zebra Coalition®
Zebra Foundation for Youth®, Inc. is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization pursuant to Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Zebra Foundation for Youth, Inc.’s registration number issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture, Division of Consumer Services under Chapter 496 of the Florida Statutes is CH-37413. The Foundation engages no professional solicitors and receives 100% of all contributions. A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE OF FLORIDA. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE OF FLORIDA.