LGBT youth launch
new Bay Area nonprofit
by Matthew S. Bajko
Bay Area high school and college students are launching a new nonprofit this month that will be solely led by LGBT and allied youth.
The all-volunteer-run agency will be called BAYS, short for the Bay Area Youth Summit, and expects to have its 501(c) 3 status finalized prior to a September 14 fundraiser it is hosting.
BAYS plans to focus on middle school students who are struggling with coming out as LGBT. It plans to host biannual summits aimed at addressing bullying that LGBT youth face in Bay Area schools, with a spring 2013 confab already in the works.
The agency also intends to connect gay-straight alliances in the schools with local nonprofits in order to pair youth with older adults in the LGBT community. It is calling the project the GSA Day of Action.
"Right now the youth of the LGBT community and adults don't interact enough," said Jason Galisatus, 19, a sophomore at Stanford University who was president of the GSA at Aragon High School in San Mateo.
Galisatus helped organize the first daylong summit on LGBT bullying in 2011. The success of the event led him to team up with other youth to launch BAYS.
They decided to focus their energy on middle schools since most established LGBT youth organizations are more involved in the high school arena. Also, as students come out of the closet at younger ages, they are in need of services and support, said Galisatus.
"BAYS will take care that we don't replicate services but fill holes that are there," said Galisatus. "Right now we are focused mainly on the Peninsula where there are not much programs for LGBT youth. We hope to expand BAYS programs nationally at some point."
One of BAYS' main projects it is working on is a Middle School Safety Initiative. The idea is to create a toolkit that health educators at middle schools can use to address LGBT topics.
"The average coming out age is getting younger and younger. With a new wave of these middle schoolers there is a lack of programs to assist them with the coming out process," said Galisatus. "We want to aggressively target middle schools."
A first of its kind for California, BAYS follows in the footsteps of the Georgia group JustUsATL. The Atlanta-based nonprofit was created in April by LGBT youth in response to leadership and fiscal problems that befell the city's YouthPride agency.
But unlike the southern group, which plans to hire staff and raise a sizable budget to cover salaries and lease a community space, BAYS intends to be a bare-bones operation with no staff and only a volunteer board made up of youth no older than 24.
It is billing itself as the first youth-led LGBT nonprofit.
"The GSA Network is adult led, so youth voices are not necessarily heard. Our board is all youth," said BAYS board member Nicholas Spears, 19, who is gay and also a sophomore at Stanford.
The BAYS board is currently comprised of 14 youth, both LGBT and straight, ranging in age from 16 to 21. Once a board member graduates from college, they will be required to step down.
The board's goal is to raise $20,000 to help pay for speakers for the summit next spring and to possibly hire a few staffers to work next summer on the middle school initiatives.
BAYS already has received $5,000 in donations and has lined up the PFLAG Peninsula chapter to be its fiscal sponsor until it can function on its own.
One of BAYS' biggest backers to date is gay state Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), who spent years working at a Peninsula nonprofit that offered services to families and children. He is scheduled to be the guest speaker at BAYS' launch party Friday, September 14 at a private home in Hillsborough.
Gordon said he was impressed by the summit that BAYS hosted in 2011. He believes the agency has found a niche in the LGBT community that needs to be filled.
"I think a targeted, focused nonprofit working toward a singular mission does have a functional role to play in our community," said Gordon when asked why a new LGBT nonprofit is needed. "Sometimes a new idea, and particularly one that is youth driven, needs to start and needs to be nurtured."
Then if it begins to take off, Gordon said BAYS might need to reexamine its governance structure.
"There does come a point if this is a truly sustainable concept where I would encourage and support a merger or connection with a larger organization," said Gordon.
For now BAYS' leaders are focused on just getting the nonprofit established and recruiting "ambassadors," or high school students, who can serve as liaisons to middle schools.
The launch party, emceed by Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, is free to attend but donations are encouraged. It will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at 1090 Parrott Drive in Hillsborough.
For more information visit BAYS' Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/bayareayouthsummit.