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Mayor's proposed budget axes expanded Q Groups

by Alex Madison

Mayor Mark Farrell. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Mayor Mark Farrell. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

LGBT youth support programs known as Q Groups are on the chopping block in Mayor Mark Farrell's proposed two-year budget. The middle school-based program was the only proposal among five put forth by the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center that was not included in the budget document that will be presented to the Board of Supervisors June 1.

The supervisors then spend June finalizing the budget before the fiscal year starts July 1.

Jodi Schwartz, a queer woman who is the longtime executive director of LYRIC, a nonprofit LGBT youth center, is fighting hard to get the groups funded.

Q Groups are safe spaces, usually held within a middle school's wellness center, where LGBT youth can visit once a week for a one-hour session. There, LGBT youth have the opportunity to learn about their identity, how to navigate the coming out experience, suicide prevention, bond with other LGBT students, and have an older LGBT mentor. A statistic Schwartz highlighted was that although all Q Group youth self identify as LGBT, 50 percent came out to close friends and family after enrolling in a Q Group.

"These groups are giving them the ability, tools, and support they need to have those important conversations now and really transform their lives in a positive way that wouldn't have happened otherwise," Schwartz said in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

There are currently six Q Groups in five San Francisco Unified School District middle schools, the first of which started in 2016. LYRIC is asking for $175,885, a slight increase over this year, to maintain the groups and expand them into five more middle schools, and to deepen the services to offer more one-on-one mentoring for LGBT youth that LYRIC is calling one-on-one youth advocacy.

Q Groups initially started at the high school level and are now in 12 high schools. The high school funding was included in the proposed budget.

For one 19-year-old, whose middle school experience was isolating, Q Groups would have saved them a lot of suffering.

"If I was in a Q Group back in middle school, I wouldn't have felt so alone in the world," said Jojo, who asked that their last name not be published. JoJo is a trans and queer Filipinx who is a fellow in LYRIC's leadership program.

"It would've given me an opportunity to be part of a bigger community and [have] access to resources of support," JoJo said.

LYRIC got the support of two youth commissioners May 7, when Commissioners Lisa Yu and Lily Marshall-Fricker announced their support. Schwartz and other representatives from LYRIC also presented at a Board of Supervisors' budget hearing and have met with the Mayor's Budget Office with Clair Farley, the mayor's senior adviser for transgender initiatives, present, regarding funding for the Q Groups.

"I feel like the meeting was successful," said Schwartz, who is still hopeful the programs will get funded for next year. "These marginalized communities are not old enough to vote yet, but our goal is to lift up their voices. They need to be able to have access to education in a place that is safe and inclusive and where school staff and teachers are trained in cultural competency to know how to work with their unique needs."

The city's Department of Children, Youth & Their Families has funded the program in the past, and Schwartz said Maria Su, executive director of DCYF, is supportive of the program, but there were other priorities and needs that were chosen.

The B.A.R. contacted Su for comment, but did not get a response by press time.

The mayor's communication team gave a statement saying, "The mayor's office is in the process of finalizing the budget. All budget requests are currently under consideration."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who has a 13-year-old daughter in middle school, said these groups are "absolutely critical."

The sooner the better for conversations surrounding identity, Sheehy said, especially during a time when many LGBT youth are first discovering their own identities.

"This is among the most vulnerable times for young people," he said in a recent interview with the B.A.R. "It's hard for me to comprehend why [the city] wouldn't provide this critical support."

Sheehy also said the program helps to mitigate homophobia, transphobia, and stigma.

The San Francisco Unified School District, which partners with LYRIC to facilitate Q Groups, is also asking for financial support of the programs.

"We have witnessed LYRIC's staff meaningful connections to San Francisco's diverse youth community and deep experience delivering curriculum centered on gender identity and sexuality. The positive experience the LGBTQQ middle grade students have as a part of the Q Groups is demonstrated by the above 90 percent retention rate," wrote Kevin Gogin, director of safety and wellness for SFUSD, in a letter to Su.

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