YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City

The Importance of Welcoming and Affirming Spaces

Written by Shade Jalo

Last year, I wrote about what it means to be a gay young man working for the YMCA. I discussed how it had grown to become a home and family for me. It was easy to discuss something of that nature, but I think this year’s post might be a little more difficult to write. The fact of the matter is, the climate is a little bit different. There is a somberness to Pride this year as we watch across the nation while laws that are being passed that put LGBTQ+ youth in dangerous situations that could severely impact their development and expose them to a world of trauma.

Participating in Pride is not only walking in a parade for our organization. Last year we provided Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training for all of our Youth & Family staff to have the right tools and knowledge to support and inspire all children and youth in our programs, especially LGBTQ+ youth and families. But the training our Youth & Family staff received is training that can ignite love and acceptance in all of us. This month, I’m going to share the importance of affirming spaces, how to be a welcoming individual, and how we move forward. 


Our training did honestly start off on a somber note, but it was also an honest one. LGBTQ+ kids deal with a great deal of risk and vulnerability. This is why things like the myriad of “Don’t Say Gay” bills are so damaging to them. The Trevor Project has done a good job of watching and compiling statistics relating to the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. Here are some highlights that they have posted on their website:

  • LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • Transgender and nonbinary youth face elevated risk for depression, thoughts of suicide, and attempting suicide compared to youth who are cisgender and straight, including cisgender members of the LGBTQ community.

When reviewing the material, the Trevor project also discusses some of the causes and one of those is a lack of welcoming and affirming spaces for LGBTQ+ youth. At our Y, we’ve looked at our materials and policies and considered what we can do to be a more affirming and welcoming spaces, but that’s only one space out of several that individuals enter. Some LGBTQ+ kids will never step foot in our facilities, never know if there even is a safe space for them. It’s increasingly important that more and more spaces are places where they can feel accepted, seen, and loved. This includes the home, schools, churches, shops, restaurants, and pretty much any space they may enter into. Considering their life revolves around their home, the most important safe space a child can have is the one with their own family.

Shade Jalo is a Youth & Family Director with the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City.



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