This June, Unite Us is recognizing Pride Month by focusing on ways community-based organizations (CBOs) can support LGBTQ+ community members.
In our communities, we each play a role in creating spaces where all feel welcome and safe, including LGBTQ+ individuals. When LGBTQ+ individuals have safe access to health and social care, we can better address their needs so they can live happier, healthier lives.
What Health Disparities Do LGBTQ+ Individuals Face?
LGBTQ+ individuals experience specific health disparities that affect their physical and mental well-being. Research shows:
LGBTQ+ populations have the highest rates of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use.
LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience homelessness.
LGBTQ+ youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide.
Why Is LGBTQ+ Health Important?
By working together to eliminate LGBTQ+ health disparities, we can help reduce disease transmission and progression, improve physical and mental well-being, and increase longevity in our communities. A history of exclusion from traditional health and social services systems exacerbates the health challenges LGBTQ+ individuals face, particularly for teens and young adults.
Creating Safe Spaces for All
Creating safe spaces is a building block for healthy, thriving communities. Rainbow Labs, a Los Angeles-based CBO in the Unite Us network, is ensuring the next generation of LGBTQ+ youth find their community, peers, and safe spaces earlier on while gaining a sense of empowerment to propel them into bright futures.
“A lot of our youth we interact with are foster youth, and they don't know where they’re going to eat at night. There are a lot of resources, but a lot of the kids don’t feel safe. How do we create safe spaces for our young people at Rainbow Labs? And then the second part is building relationships and training everybody else around our youth to say we can be a resource. We can be a referral place. We don't have all the answers, but we can start," says Luis Vasquez, Founder and Executive Director of Rainbow Labs.
The key to connecting the Rainbow Labs youth to services in the Los Angeles area is partnering through Unite Us with critical linkages, like area schools and their associated programs.
“Our mentors know the systemic challenges that our kids are facing before they even show up to Rainbow Labs, like childhood trauma and basic human needs; and when it comes up, how can we refer them out to the right services?” says Jacob Toups, Founder of Rainbow Labs. “The benefit is in our collaborative partnerships because we’ve partnered with after-school agencies that also have connections or provide food directly to kids. We already have a built-in support network because they're being referred out.”
Rainbow Labs receives referrals from county agencies (like the LA County Department of Children and Family Services) and works with a network of trusted organizations to connect LGBTQ+ youth with community resources that address basic needs: “The reality is we can't really serve kids that don't have their basic human needs met. That’s why we partner with organizations that already have that built in. We come in and say, ‘Let us take the next step and have a conversation around identity.’”
Expand Your Reach Through a Network of Coordinated Care
We have the opportunity to support LGBTQ+ individuals through our coordinated care network.
Like Rainbow Labs, a network of coordinated care provides more opportunities for LGBTQ+ individuals to access care that is responsive to their needs. Through the Unite Us network, you can:
Refer individuals to shelters where they will be housed according to their gender identity.
Facilitate connections to peer support groups for parents, families, and friends.
Help individuals find organizations that provide LGBTQ+-affirming behavioral health services.
Help individuals get a state ID and other legal documents to match their true gender identity.
Guide families to healthcare providers with experience serving the LGBTQ+ community.
Connect individuals with employment or legal services at inclusive and LGBTQ+-affirming organizations.
Learn more about joining a network and how your organization can expand your impact for the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.