LGBTQ Rights Section reaches out to local youth

 By Jo Mathis

Legal News
 
As a studio manager and program advisor at The Neutral Zone teen center in Ann Arbor, Jonah Thompson spends a fair amount of time reaching out to local organizations that might want to support the work there.
So when he was asked to speak to the Washtenaw County Bar Association’s LGBTQ Rights Section meeting recently, he considered it an honor.
“It’s a breath of fresh air when someone reaches out and says, `Hey, will you come and be a part of this community and will you come and speak to us?’” he said. “I appreciate that, and the start of this relationship.”
LGBTQ Rights Section co-chair Angie Martell reached out to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered teens at The Neutral Zone as a way to learn about their concerns as well as to let them know there are local lawyers willing to help.
Martell said all kids need a safe and supportive environment to blossom and flourish, and that it’s hard for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender kids to come out to their families or friends.
“The fear of rejection and the fear of serious negative reactions keep LGBTQ kids from openly sharing their lives,” she said.  “It’s hard to live in the closet.  It’s hard to feel rejection. I am grateful that all Michigan teens have a place like the Neutral Zone where they are free to speak their minds, free to be themselves without judgment or challenge, and where they receive a safe space that provides them with confidence and caring to become compassionate and caring adults.”
During the meeting, Thompson said he frequently hears from LGBT teens at The Neutral Zone that they are bullied and harassed at school. They also talk about intimate partner violence; emotional abuse at home; skipping school because of a lack of support there.
He said the recent focus on same-sex marriage hasn’t much interested the youths, many of whom are turned off by marriage. But they are intrigued by what it means for families.
“For those with same-sex parents, they’re glad about the adoptions,” he said. 
Neutral Zone Development Director Amy Milligan said that even in Ann Arbor, there is a lack of family support among LGBT youths, and she knows of a transgendered youth whose gay parents are not supportive.
She said a common misconception is that The Neutral Zone is either just for privileged kids who don’t really need it, or only for troubled youth—and not the kind of place you’d send your child, she said. “We’re not a social work agency; crisis intervention is not what we do. We end up doing it as part of what goes on, but that’s not our primary focus.”
Kerene Moore, a staff attorney at Legal Services of South Central Michigan (LSSCM), said she was eager to hear from local youth, and encouraged the connection with The Neutral Zone.
She said Thompson and Milligan informed the group that there are teens with very specific needs and very specific goals and initiatives.
“They lobby,” she said. “They write letters. They start their own little mini campaigns. And as the Washtenaw County Bar organization, we can help proof their letters, and we can write our own letters in support of their letters.”
Moore said WCBA members could also answer questions LGBTQ youth may have about legal steps required to get their voices heard, or how to get a name change on a driver’s license, or what they can do at 18 that they couldn’t do at 16.
“I think this particular organization gives them that safe space,” she said, “and we can go into that space and find out what their questions are.”

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