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Out Youth comes
out on top

Out Youth comes
out on top


A little over a year ago, Out Youth was forced to close its doors due to financial constraints. But with strong community support, the center is here to stay.

In May 2006, The Advocate ran an article announcing that Out Youth, an Austin-based community center for LGBT youths, had closed its doors due to financial constraints. Although the move was temporary, there was a degree of uncertainty about the center's future. Now, more than a year later, Out Youth is experiencing newfound success with a little support from its friends and neighbors.

After 16 years of providing support and leadership opportunities to young LGBT people, Out Youth found that its absence would not go unnoticed. "It was sort of a wake-up call," says Kevin Lemoine, the organization's treasurer. "Some of our youth organized independently to maintain the sense of community they got at OY. People began to talk about how important Out Youth was to the community and that they didn't want it to die." Lemoine explained that government officials with both the city of Austin and Travis County expressed strong support for the center.

To maintain a palpable presence, Out Youth opened on a limited basis several weeks after announcing its closure. Providing its services only one night a week, the center relied on a volunteer staff and severely limited funds. To bolster the organization, a group of community members worked with local writer Steven Thomlinson and his partner, Eugene Sepulveda, to organize a benefit performance of his play AmericanFiesta. The performance raised over $30,000, making it Out Youth's most successful fund-raising event to date.

Yet perhaps more significant are the contributions of individual supporters. One Houston couple donated $20,000, with another $30,000 promised as soon as Out Youth develops a solid business plan. "Needless to say, the [board of directors] is working on the business plan now and plan to have it completed by the end of the summer," Lemoine says. The most recent gift--a generous $105,000 to pay off the mortgage of the Out Youth house-came from by Bill Dickson, a retired certified public accountant who has made Austin his home for the past 32 years.

Dickson came into contact with the organization through his late partner, who was an advocate for LGBT youths. When he heard that Out Youth was packing up, he offered his support. "They do awfully good work," Dickson says. "I can't think of any better way to put my money." And this was not his first contribution to LGBT organizations, as he had also paid off the mortgage for AIDS Services of Austin. It's worth it, Dickson says, because Out Youth provides a unique service to the area. "A lot of these kids are alienated," he explains. "They need something like this."

And it's not just Out Youth's supporters who are contributing to the organization. "Out Youth models our belief that youth are capable of 'doing it for themselves.' We believe these actions speak louder than any words," Lemoine explains. "This engages youth in empowering work as part of a larger community, which promotes personal growth for all involved." The organization's young members are essential to the planning and execution of various Out Youth projects, including an alternative prom that drew over 150 local young people this past year.

Given the organization's recent success, there has been talk of establishing satellite centers around central Texas. "We have youth drive long distances to find us, take long trips by public transportation, or just e-mail from a distance," says Lemoine. "Some don't speak English. We are looking for ways to expand our reach, both geographically and across barriers of language, culture, and all the other differences that divide us."

Of course, any further expansion will be contingent on securing additional funds from outside sources. But until then, the center's leaders are content with its revived presence in Austin. "When the doors closed, we heard from the youth how important Out Youth was to them, and many of them continued to gather informally," says Lemoine. "They're the heart and soul of our organization and the inspiration for all the work we've done to rebuild Out Youth."

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