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Disrupting Inequity to Heal, not Harm: Empowering NOLA’s LGBTQ Youth

By Leticia Peguero on November 20, 2015

In our last blog post, we saw how grantee partner YEP is disrupting the structural inequities affecting opportunity youth in New Orleans. Now, you’ll see how grantee partner BreakOUT! is dismantling the inequities that impact LGBTQ youth.

Research shows that LGBTQ youth—specifically trans and gender non-conforming youth of color—are disproportionately profiled by police and jailed for minor infractions in New Orleans. The criminalization of these youth puts them at an increased risk of being homeless, jobless, victims of sexual assault and other acts of violence. Through advocacy and direct service, BreakOUT! is making New Orleans a safer and more just city for their members.

“BreakOUT! amplifies a collective voice of LGBTQ youth of color in New Orleans and mobilizes young people to change the system.”
Wes Ware, BreakOUT! Founding Director

Many BreakOUT! youth have discriminately been pushed out of their schools and homes and into incarceration. In response to this injustice, BreakOUT! supports New Orleans’ LGBTQ youth who have been marginalized by unjust systems that fail to protect them and often target them for arrest, while at the same time, empowering them to become advocates for social justice.

BreakOUT!’s office serves as a drop-in center and is the only one of its kind to provide a safe haven for LGBTQ youth of color in New Orleans. At this space, BreakOUT! also facilitates healing workshops and educational classes for its members. The Posh Academy is an example of educational programming offered at BreakOUT! Through a partnership with YEP, BreakOUT! offers its members an opportunity to get high school equivalency test training within the center’s familiar setting.

Through leadership development training and member-led organizing, BreakOUT! members are actively engaged in dismantling an unjust system, holding city decision-makers accountable, and learning to exercise their rights. Upon completion of BreakOUT!’s Building Our Power Institute, members are eligible for internships, stipended positions as trainers for local youth service providers, and travel to conferences and convenings. Most importantly, all of BreakOUT!’s initiatives are informed by their members —3 of their 5 staff members were cultivated directly from youth membership.

BreakOUT! has made great strides to end the criminalization of LGBTQ youth. They helped implement policies within the New Orleans Police Department to end discriminatory policing practices targeting the LGBTQ community and youth of color. They have made the city’s only youth homeless shelter more welcoming of LGBTQ residents. They have bridged the divide between the criminalization of undocumented workers and LGBTQ youth of color in New Orleans. And they have garnered greater awareness both locally and nationally of the injustices that negatively impact LGBTQ young people.

Despite their accomplishments, their work is far from done.

Many of BreakOUT!’s members are in need of stable housing, jobs and overall safety. Transgender women of color continue to be murdered at an astonishing rate and are routinely victims of violent crime. For this reason, BreakOUT! has recently launched a new campaign in honor of a community member who was murdered earlier this year.

We are proud to support BreakOUT! in their approach to advocacy and justice for all LGBTQ youth.

In the final chapter of this blog series, you will learn about the legal services and advocacy work grantee partner Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights provides New Orleans’ vulnerable youth. We will also explore how all of our New Orleans-based grantee partners work together to amplify their impact.