Throughout Florida, LGBTQIA+ equality is making strong progress. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Municipal Equality Index, Tallahassee, Orlando and St. Petersburg score 100/100 for pro-equality advances in health, business and human services.

So how does our “Bold City” stack up?

Short answer: We have a lot of work to do — critical, demanded and fundamental work.

Here’s the truth: Kids in our community are suffering because of a lack of inclusivity.

Our partners at JASMYN recently reported that 60% of Duval County homeless youth currently identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The HRC reports that LGBTQ youth are over-represented in the foster care system. This means that the percentage of youth in foster care who are LGBTQIA+ identified is larger than the percentage of LGBTQIA+ youth in the general youth population.

These are kids that have faced discrimination, disparities, rejection and maltreatment in the face of coming out to their families.

These are sad truths in 2018.

And what’s even more heartbreaking is the research that shows that LGBTQIA+ youth who are not supported by their families are eight times more likely to commit suicide and six times more likely to report depression.

At Children’s Home Society of Florida, we believe the statistics facing our LGBTQIA+ youth are simply unacceptable. That’s why we’re working to reduce these risks by offering an affirming and comfortable environment — in place and practice — for LGBTQIA+ kids and families.

As a leader in child welfare services, we are sensitive to the unique challenges that LGBTQIA+ youth in foster care face — rejection from loved ones and family members, sometimes resulting in homelessness, struggles with non-affirming employers, improper sexual health education in school and at home, barriers to engaging in community services and support, and lack of access to mentors and social resources.

And once these kids have experienced that trauma, we know that carefully trained foster parents, relatives and caregivers are crucial to preventing further rejection. They can be literal lifelines when it comes to decreasing the risk of suicide and high-risk behaviors.

So we’re putting in the work and making the change in our community.

At CHS, our LGBTQIA+ support group (SOGIES), engagement in LGBTQIA+ events and activities, and partnerships with LGBTQIA+ affirming organizations encourages and equips our practitioners to engage youth within our community, to build peer and community relationships, and to empower teens and young adults to advocate for their needs as LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Our counselors are trained to recognize and assist LGBTQIA+ youth in crisis, and our foster and adoptive programs are both HRC-certified by All Children All Families (ACAF), recognizing our relentless determination to provide the right services to all kids.

And we’re collaborating with some big names in the process.

CHS is proud to be the first organization in the country to conduct a Training of Facilitators with HRC-ACAF – a program to build an organization’s internal capacity to provide LGBTQIA+ training routinely. We’re leading the way with Dignity Model Certified Providers trained in LGBTQIA+ affirming practices to effectively counsel and support LGBTQIA+ youth and their families. And in collaboration with the Nonprofit Center of Jacksonville, we’re currently working with International Sexuality Education and Youth Development Expert Dr. Elizabeth Schroeder to take these practices even further.

Driving change takes more than leadership and heart – it also takes support. That’s why CHS is actively seeking partners and foster parents who believe in creating a comfortable, inclusive and affirming First Coast community.

Right now, our experts are developing a training to assist other interested providers and organizations to better serve the LGBTQIA+ community.

Because “It is what it is” isn’t enough. Our city is in desperate need of more resources and better understanding.

Together, I know we can create a greater change for our LGBTQIA+ families and youth. If you know a family, organization or individual that can benefit from any of the services above, I encourage you to reach out to our team to learn more.