Photos: LGBT Center MYTE Program
It’s already difficult to find a place to belong in one’s teenage years, but for LGBTQ teens in particular, the task may seem close to impossible. This is why the Long Beach LGBTQ Center’s MYTE program has existed since 2006, providing a safe space and second home for LGBTQ teenagers who are just coming to terms with their identities.
The Center is home to programs that provide safe spaces for Long Beach’s diverse community. MYTE (pronounced mighty), or the Mentoring Youth Through Empowerment program, is a drop-in site that provides an affirming space for LGBTQ youth and allies ages 13 to 19, meeting every Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The program is upstairs on the second floor of the Center. The room is warm and colorful, filled with couches and bookcases. Art created by the youth covers the room on the white boards and in the nooks and crannies of the storage cubbies. For the younger MYTE kids, since the program is an after-school drop-in, the mentors provide help with homework. The space also provides healthy snacks and food. Every week there is an opportunity to try something new with activities that the youth can participate in, including screen printing, arts and crafts and making buttons! Below, we describe three ways the MYTE program is saving lives, one youth at a time.
- Finding Support and a Role Model
“I think everyone can benefit from having a space where they can feel supported and accepted” says Jason Helstrom, a MYTE alumnus.
The backbones of the program are the mentors and coordinators, queer adults and allies who are responsible for organizing and supervising events. Mentors act as role models for the youth, providing them with confidants and positive examples of healthy, successful adult life as members of the LGBTQ community. The mentors are also there as a support system to help give advice and start conversations on issues that might be difficult to confront alone.
MYTE provides a unique chance for teens to meet others that share similar experiences and identities who may be from other parts of Long Beach or Los Angeles County. Some people in the program also come from the surrounding areas like Carson, Seal Beach, and even as far as Santa Ana. It’s important to have these spaces for marginalized youth because they might not always be have support at home, school, or may be still closeted to their families. For teens who are closeted in their life outside MYTE, it may be their only opportunity to interact openly with other LGBTQ youth. The teenage years are vital to forming a solid sense of identity and high self-esteem. Having adults validate their emotions and experiences can mean the difference between life and death for gay and trans youth.
“A lot of tragedy has occurred within the LGBTQ community due to a lack of support for those who need it most. Youth are at a higher risk for homelessness, addiction, and abuse, and deserve a safe space where they can build a healthy, supportive community,” states Helstrom.
- Inclusive AF Sex-Ed
MYTE also promotes sex education, which is severely lacking in public schools nationwide. Many federally-provided sex-ed classes do not discuss safe sex between individuals of the same sex.
“Curriculum [often] ignores the existence of LGBT people and non-heterosexual behaviors completely,” states GLSEN, an LGBTQ-advocacy in education organization. “Not only is there an omission of LGBT people and related topics, but heterosexuality is put forth as the norm and only conceivable option.”
Devices such as dental dams, female condoms, and finger condoms are rarely mentioned, if they are even mentioned at all. Furthermore, these courses do not discuss the existence of transgender individuals, nor do they explore how partners can communicate to keep sex safe and consensual.
MYTE provides our youth with a safe environment that encourages discussion and education on topics that remain undertaught in schools.
- Fun as Hell, Age-Friendly Socials
The program does far more than create a space for youth; it gives them options to further the work that’s being done in their communities. All MYTE youth are given the opportunity to volunteer or participate in events around Long Beach and Los Angeles. For example, they encourage helping with the AIDS walk, a walkathon fundraiser that raises money to help fund research that assists fight against AIDS. They also have field trips to events like “Models of Pride,” a LGBTQ conference and resource fair at USC.
Youth also volunteer in the events for teens – something that’s not always accessible by Long Beach pride events which are usually 21 and over.
Instead, The Center puts on a Teen Pride, which is a pride event specifically to include people under the age of 21.
MYTE also throws an annual dance for youth called Monster Ball, a themed dance that allows kids to be themselves without the fear of being ostracized for not fitting into societal norms.
“MYTE gave a home away from home for me and my friends during some rough times, where we couldn’t go anywhere else,” shares Helstrom. Such youth groups that assist marginalized communities help heal those who do not feel as though they have their own space. Everyone deserves to have a space where they feel secure, with the youth being no exception.