Philadelphia Community Organization Galaei Highlights the Resiliency of Queer Latin@ Youth
Pride is a celebration but also a protected space. Due to the pandemic, that space is now unavailable for many LGBTQIA+ youth who are in much need of it. The space Pride creates is one of safety and self-expression where they can be completely true to themselves. And while there is diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community, Pride is a reminder of the history they share, which created a common kinship over 50 years ago. Now, while the world looks for ways to stay connected and is innovating virtual tools that will thrive post-COVID-19, the importance of physical space cannot be denied. Pride is one of the few opportunities the LGBTQIA+ community has to create a collective space for physical and emotional connection. Pride is many things: political, societal … but, most importantly, it is personal.
For many LGBTQIA+ youth, the journey to Pride can be lonely. Some are able to get there on their own, but as the continuum is broad, others may need the support of family, friends and allies to arrive. In Philadelphia, Galaei is one of these allies. Galaei is a social justice organization that services the queer Latin@ (gender-neutral shorthand for Latino/Latina) community, including youth. The life experiences of the LGBTQIA+ do not occur in a vacuum and often, the cultural nuances of the LGBTQIA+ community can conflict with race, religion and ethnicity. This is why specific allies are needed to provide specialized support to youth.
All photos courtesy of Galaei.
Galaei has a youth program designed specifically around queer youth of color. Francisco Cortes, Galaei’s interim executive director, explains that there are many layers to working with this youth population, as some may be migrants, going through puberty and at the same time, struggling with their sexual orientation. The organization recently helped Diego*, a youth referred to Galaei who needed support coming out to his parents. “After enrolling in Galaei’s Supporting Our Youth (SOY) Project and receiving coaching, resources and support, he was able to come out to his parents,” says Cortes. Diego’s story is a successful one. His parents were even going to take him to the Pride parade this year, which he was very excited for, but they were unable to attend due to COVID-19. “We are sure that this family is going to have an exciting new beginning!”
*Name changed to protect the youth’s identity.
But not all LGBTQIA+ youth have such happy beginnings. Often, LGBTQIA+ Latin@ youth do not have proper support systems in place to help them cope and overcome barriers. That’s when Galaei steps in. “There’s a huge cultural shift in every aspect—the language, structure of the city, the way they interact with their peers—all of this is very different,” Cortes says. “On top of all of that, they are teenagers going through puberty, and they are figuring themselves out in terms of if they are LGBTQ+ identified and how to explore and educate themselves.” And one must consider their perspective and answer crucial questions to understand the culture each youth comes from. “Where are they in their migration pattern? How is their family dynamic? What are the already established support systems, and how can we utilize them to further support them in their LGBTQ+ identity?”
To enhance these support systems, Galaei offers services to their clients’ parents so they may better understand how to support their children, the success of which is illustrated in the above anecdote. This is critical, Cortes explains, as not having a network of support is one of the barriers LBGTQIA+ Latin@ youth face—many only know their families.
This fact brings up a particular concern for LBGTQIA+ Latin@ youth who come into the child welfare system. Kinship care provides all children the opportunity to live in the care of relatives to maintain that connection to their cultures and communities, but like many groups who are “othered” by mainstream society, LBGTQIA+ Latin@ youth need safe, judgment-free spaces where they can interact and socialize with other kids to whom they relate, as well as receive mentorship and support from adults who understand them.
Galaei is such a place, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has turned to virtual tools to continue providing LBGTQIA+ Latin@ youth with specialized support.
According to Cortes, the biggest challenge these youth are facing amid the pandemic is not having that physical space to come together and feel safe. “We meet in terms of Zoom, Facetime and phone conversations,” he says. “Moving all of the conversations to digital and phone calls and video games has been a way to continue engaging in a group setting, as well. We are making the best of the situation by still being accessible to our youth.”
A lot of the youth Galaei serves face adversities in their communities and personal lives, but they continue to show resiliency in every aspect. Whether they are immigrants, struggling with their sexual identities, being bullied, etc., these youth continue to face each day with triumph and hope.
The best way child welfare agencies can support LGBTQIA+ Latin@ youth in foster care is by simply listening to what these young people want and need. Meet them where they are and start the conversation there. Understanding their culture and family dynamics—and how each informs the other—and being linguistically accessible in the language they speak are important to this youth population’s progress and well-being.
LGBTQIA+ Latin@ youth deserve to be empowered and their resiliency and continued efforts to grow celebrated, not only during PRIDE Month or COVID-19, but in everyday life.
As such, child welfare agencies should not only engage LGBTQIA+ Latin@ youth in care to learn directly what their needs are, but also educate their employees and caregivers/foster parents on cultural nuances, utilizing already established support networks and other best practices to provide this population with tailored support that’s effective (e.g., hiring Spanish-speaking social workers). There are also countless local and national organizations dedicated to servicing LGBTQIA+ youth and their families (like Galaei) that can provide specialized resources and even opportunities to collaborate.
Some national organizations to consider: