LGBT in New Jersey: Part III: Youth in Newark – This is their story

A Project WOW Group Session

Julio Roman, NJCRI Manager of LGBT Services, says, ‘Newark’s LGBT community, like elsewhere, ranges widely in all aspects, but Newark has the state’s largest number of  homeless and socially disconnected LGBT youth. Many are transgender persons, living with an unknown HIV status, homeless, undocumented, bullied in school, coping with disabilities and facing violence. This is their story.”

Roman adds “NJCRI’s Newark Project WOW which now serves over 300 LGBT youths a year was founded 19 years ago when it pioneered the use of  gay telephone chat lines and online chatrooms to outreach, engage and connect with so many young people who were in the closet. There have been many changes since then, and more are still needed.”

Staff members and clients provide an overview. Tracey says their issues are getting more media attention and their Pride events empower the community and display their strength. Kysheif says the biggest change has been the dramatic increase in the transgender population. Homelessness and street work are issues that remain in the forefront. There are are continuing incidents of street violence, but better liaison with police makes it easier to report incidents. Henry points to the importance of the Internet with folks using Grinder and Jack’d, but he says there is increased suspicion of government and decreased funding. Loulou, wearing a “Pussy Power” button, says women now have more power, owning businesses, out, and open.

In a wide-ranging interview LGBT youth talk frankly about life in Newark. 

Rachael, a transgender woman, says she gets good medical care at UMDNJ, and Medicaid provides reimbursement for two transitioning medical treatments. There is a lack of counseling services for transgender people, and at home she is not fully comfortable with her religious family. It is not always safe on the streets at night, but she found Essex County College to be a welcoming experience. She also says that in Newark the Black and LGBT communities often work together, but their agendas do not always coincide. Drewske points out that some high schools do not let transgender folks come to school as who they are when they are in the process of transitioning. In our state prisons transgender inmates are needlessly kept in administrative segregation and receive little attention.

Nadae and Mendy Down see the Newark LGBT youth community coming together and helping each other. Youth used to feel scared, but they have started to speak out, and it is easier now to come out as gay. By traveling as a group after they leave Project WOW in the evening they feel safe and project power.

Drewske says his mother, who was born in Mexico received her citizenship during the Obama administration, something  which he suspects would not happen under the current government. He lives in Brooklyn but comes to Newark where he feels he receives more personalized services and gets more attention. He points out that HIV prevention and youth empowerment are easier when there is a gay-friendly organization in place. Another person talks about immigrants who fear their parents may be deported, that DACA may be terminated, that ICE may arrest them, and their need for more identifying documents.

Housing, shelters, transitional housing; Drewske points to the lack of affordable housing. HOPWA helps somewhat but NJ should have a program like NY’s  dedicated assistance to people with HIV. There are numerous shelters in Newark but they are not gay-friendly and can be dangerous. In neighboring East Orange RAIN has a homeless shelter exclusively for LGBT with 70% being transgender people. Also in East Orange there is a transitional living facility which offers additional services.

THEIR MOST IMPORTANT NEEDS  

  • Drewske: “Improving housing opportunities for LGBT and people with HIV.”
  • Nadea: “Accept people for who they are.”
  • Rachael: “Create more transgender programs particularly for job placement, schools and homes.”
  • Jarrell: “LGBT should work more closely with schools to make them more gay-friendly, and schools should get more funding for LGBT groups and counseling services.”

Julio Roman adds, ‘Self-esteem and self-worth are often absent but are the key ingredients missing to address the evolving phases of LGBT adolescents. The need for more vital culturally competent LGBT care providers and leaders has never been more evident.”

Part I of this series: Overview, plus, NJ Moving Forward and Trump Administration Moving Backward.  Part II: An Empowered Community Flourishes as Discrimination Lessens, focusing on Jersey City.

Disclosure: the author of this article was the the founder and the Executive Director of North Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) for 20 years. For more about NJCRI’s broad range of medical and social services for LGBT of all ages, as well as people living with or at risk for HIV in the Greater Newark area go here. or call 973-483-3444.

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Project WOW booth

Project WOW utilizes online outlets and social media to cultivate healthy peer to peer relationships amongst LGBTQ youth ages 13-24 and to deliver vital lifesaving messages and services related to sexual health and substance use risk. Project WOW creates a safe and affirming space where LGBTQ youth at high risk for HIV and substance use can socialize, build a healthy community, develop leadership skills and access relevant sexual health, mental health, and substance use and education services. . Project WOW believes that each and every LGBTQ person has a voice that should be heard and recognized as change agents in our communities.

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