Loretta Prescott, director of development, JASMYN
In honor of Pride Month, United Way of Northeast Florida offered its partners serving the LGBTQ community the opportunity to share how together we can create a stronger Northeast Florida of all. Here’s what United Way partner JASMYN, a non-profit youth services organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-23 had to say:
June is Pride Month, a time to see and appreciate the LGBTQ community. And for the community itself to not just proclaim, but revel in its existence. I can only say these things from a degree away, as I am an ally, or as we like to say at JASMYN, Jacksonville’s LGBTQ Youth Center, an accomplice.
Last year, author and activist Darnell L. Moore spoke at our Coming Out Day Breakfast and helped us change this language. Where ally connotes a person who stands side by side with you, accomplice brings to mind someone willing to go further and get their hands dirty on your behalf. Accomplices are not merely witness to our queer friends’ or family’s lives, we are active participants in them.
My daughter is queer and in our discussions of life in her skin, she has helped me understand the constant fear that lives in all those who identify this way. It’s the fear of someone expressing their fear of you, through words or smaller acts, or bigger acts. This fear is part of every single day, no matter where you live or work, and she is fortunate to do both in open and accepting places. It pervades your thought with every expression of your true self. If you are not in the LGBTQ or another marginalized community, imagine carrying that every day. This fear can be exacerbated within the many layers of life a person walks through each day, such as family, work, community, religious community, even grocery shopping or taking public transit.
As accomplices, it is incumbent on us to not only promote safe space, but help create it. We need to be out in front of our straight peers calling out attitudes and biases that seem harmless enough to them, but only for some education about how these make others feel. It’s our responsibility to see the way we are treated and help our LGBTQ friends and family access that treatment in every venue too.
At my first Pride celebration this month, I was treated to a community of love, visualized in unicorns and rainbows, that is part of every aspect of our lives, whether we recognize it or not. The LGBTQ community is not geographically, politically or socio-economically defined. This was my great takeaway from that experience, even as the accomplice I am: If this community is forced to be secretive, that opens them up to exploitation and abuse. But if we can all create an environment where acceptance and love is the first draw, that negates the need for secrecy and creates a safe, united community to support people of every gender identity.
That is how we roll at JASMYN — lots of love. Sure there’s evidence-based practices, clinical models and research that goes into our work. There must be for us to have grown and thrived for 25 years, but none of that can be effective if we don’t welcome the youth we serve with love. What I’ve come to understand at JASMYN is that this is how we welcome everyone. That certainly is something to be proud of, this month and throughout the year.
With the support of United Way, agencies like JASMYN are able to help youth in Northeast Florida have hope and reach their full potential. Through the power of partnerships, we ensure individuals and families have access to critical health resources to promote physical and mental well-being for all ages. To learn how you can join United Way in the fight for community change, visit unitedwaynefl.org/get-involved.