Atlanta youth leaders describe ideas for new LGBT community center

At the onset of the forum, the message was clear ― there would be no discussion of any other organizations during the forum. However, all the youth attending the forum were once regular clients of YouthPride, formed in 1995 but recently has suffered severe financial setbacks and is being forced to move from its location on May 31. YouthPride has not paid rent since June 2011 and after several attempts to get payment, its landlord, Inman Park United Methodist Church, finally resorted to legal action.

Preliminary ideas from JustUsATL include buying a space rather than renting, for an estimated annual budget of $41,780, according to the presentation at the forum. The tentative budget includes an estimated $2,000 per month mortgage fee. Organizers said, however, they are not opposed to renting a space if one can be found or even sharing a space with an existing organization.

Search for staff is part of a one-year plan the group laid out, including the hiring of an executive director for perhaps $35,000-$45,000 a year as well as an administrative assistant for $20,000 a year.

The elephant in the room, YouthPride, was not mentioned except in passing when Gabriel Haggray, who once sat as a youth member on YouthPride’s board of directors, discussed JustUsATL’s wish to hire an executive director in a year’s time: “We will do a background search. We will Google them,” he said to laughter from the audience.

YouthPride’s current executive director, Terence McPhaul, has come under scrutiny recently for filing lawsuits against former employers as well as alleging he is a mental health expert to celebrities. All of this information is available through Google searches.

After the meeting, Haggray, 24, said he wanted queer young people in Atlanta to know that JustUsATL is a safe space for them.

“Queer youth, we have to stick together and have a place to stick together ― and currently that place doesn’t exist,” he said. “We don’t have a safe zone. It’s important to have someplace right now and queer youth in atlanta currently don’t have that. We need that,” he said.

But what about YouthPride?

“I will say that if people don’t feel that is a safe space we are a safe space,” Haggray said.

John Beers, a former volunteer facilitator at YouthPride, is now facilitating a group a Georgia State University for JustUsATL. He facilitated the teen discussion group at YouthPride since January 2010 but recently moved to help with JustUsATL because the group asked him, he said.

The JustUsATL teen and adult discussion group meets every Wednesday at 7 the lobby of the College of Education at GSU. Beers facilitates the teen group while the young adult group is youth-led.

A peer-led transgender and gender nonconforming discussion group meets on Tuesdays, also in the lobby of the GSU College of Education, at 7 p.m. Shuttles from the Edgewood Barnes & Noble are also available at 6:30 p.m. to both discussion groups.

“Basically, I was thrilled to be asked and I have experience,” Beers said. He declined to comment on why he left YouthPride.

Brit Prince, 22, said JustUsATL has the mission of empowering youth through organizing the new group but also by helping them learn to become part of the larger community.

Casey Geyer, 20, was also excited about what JustUsATL’s vision. “A lot of the youth had been coalescing about the future around youth services in Atlanta. Im quite pleased with structure so far, and I’m very excited about the future,” Geyer said.

Chris Kontopidis, 24, said immediate plans after the town hall were to call on volunteers and to get the name of the organization into the community.

“We’re still very excited about getting into the community more. That’s a huge focus,” he said.

Plans for a board of directors as part of the one-year plan is to have it include mostly youth, Haggray said. But, he added, the youth know that adult professionals will be needed.

JustUsATL explains strategic plan, tentative budget

A panel of nine youth presented a Power Point presentation laying out an overall preliminary budget of approximately $116,540 as well as the organization’s mission and core values. The youth also laid out a three-month plan, a six-month plan and a one-year plan.

The three-month plan (by June 30) includes:
• File to incorporate as a 501(c)3.
• Create diversified fundraising/development plan.
• Write and pass operating budget.
• Offer discussion groups for teens, young adults, trans/gender non-conforming/questioning youth, and empowerment as well as counseling, drop-in hours, STI testing, and social events.
• Obtain regular meeting space.

The six-month plan (by Sept. 30):
• Form advisory board.
• Offer all existing programs as well as an after-school space, tutoring, and a speakers bureau.
• Host event for donors and volunteers.
• Rent, or preferably own, a permanent home.

The one-year plan (by March 31, 2013):

• Have elections for a new Board of Directors.
• Offer all services initially planned.
• Formulate and approve new annual budget.
• Create, 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year strategic plans.

Services JustUsATL plans to offer:
• Discussion forums
• Teen forum
• Young adult forum
• Trans* and gender non-conforming forum
• Counseling services
• One-on-one
• Group
• Sex education and safer sex supplies
• STI testing
• Group social activities
• Homework help/after school space
• Library

The group also laid out its core mission and values.

• Mission: Our mission is to provide a community center for LGBTQQA youth where individuality is valued and encouraged, social and personal development is fostered, community is promoted, and youth empowerment is seen as a step toward social change.

• Core values: We, as a collective of LGBTQQA young people including teens and young adults, represent justice, integrity, empowerment, and social change. We are a group of young people who

• Core values ― Justice: Everyone is a valued member of our society. We commit to confronting oppression based on gender identity and expression, sexuality, race and ethnicity, language, looks and size, religion, class, ability, age, and immigration status.

Core values ― Integrity: We will be transparent with our process and support the leadership of those most affected by each issue. We will remain open and honest with our community and hold ourselves accountable to its needs.

Core values ― Empowerment: As youth forming an organization to meet the needs of our own population, we exercise our right to self-determine and take hold of our own future.

Core values ― social change: We dedicate ourselves to structural change in our society such that all spaces will be liberating and affirming for LGBTQQA young people and people of all identities. We strive toward this goal with peer education, group action, and community outreach.

The model JustUsATL plans to follow:
• Consensus-based decision-making
• Open parliamentary forum
• Committee delegation
• Open participation for LGBTQQA youth

More information can be found at the JustUsATL website and its Facebook page.

Photo: Members of JustUsATL discuss their mission at a March 31 town hall forum. (by Dyana Bagby)