One-In-Teen Youth Services, Inc.
703 Berry Road
Nashville, TN 37204
Wednesday Evening Comprehensive Educational/Support Group
The primary focus of the
organization is the weekly comprehensive educational/support group meeting. The
One-In-Teen Wednesday evening support group began in October 1989. The program was
developed after a young gay man wrote Penny Campbell at the Tennessee Gay and Lesbian
Alliance, which is now the Center for Gay & Lesbian Community Services, asking if they
would assist him in starting a group for gay/lesbian teens. During the first few weeks,
the mission and purpose of the group was developed by the membership. They decided to
limit the age range to 14-22 years and to welcome any young person that is lesbian, gay,
bisexual, transgender or questioning of their sexual orientation. The group operates with
a flexible, open structure following a peer-to-peer support group with adult facilitation
model. The adult facilitators, called sponsors, are responsible for guaranteeing that the
meetings are safe and that all have a chance to be involved. Also, they assure that the
support group, as all One-In-Teen activities are drug/ alcohol-free. The operating rules
and most of the administrative decisions are made by the membership. The youth membership
interviews and selects the group sponsors.
Meeting attendance varies from week to week as does the content and the tone. The support group attendance figures from January-April 1995 shows that the average attendance was 15 young people with a high of 27 and a low of 9. During the summers, the meetings have had occasional attendance highs between 40-45. Over 200 young people have participated in the weekly support group during the past 5 years.
The meeting format is very consistent. At 6:30 pm a youth member or adult sponsor will call the meeting to order. Everyone introduces
themselves and responds (or passes on the opportunity to respond) to a question that serves as an "icebreaker." The questions are developed by the youth or selected from The Book of Questions. The groups operating guidelines, called agreements, are reviewed for the entire group by a youth member. This is followed by announcements. From this point until a break at 7:30 pm the youth discuss problems, concerns, and other issues of importance to them as well receive advice from other group members. There is a 10-minute break at 7:30 pm. Most evenings after the break, the group returns to the peer-to-peer discussions and problem-solving. On the average of once a month, the second half is devoted to a special program, guest speaker or recreation. Previous topics have included conflict resolution, domestic violence, drug/alcohol abuse, healthy relationships, HIV, internalized homophobia, safe dating, sexual addictions, suicide, racism, reducing conflict with parents, and sexism.
The group maintains a fixed meeting time and location. This permits the members to know that if they have a problem they can bring it to
group on the following Wednesday. Regardless of how long it has been since they were at group, the youth know when and where the next meeting will be. This constancy is important because some of the members are not able to attend every meeting and many of the young people attending the group do not have this level of consistent support in their other relationships.
The group serves several purposes for the lesbian and gay youth that attend. First, it offers each youth reassurance that s/he is not the only lesbian or gay teenager in Tennessee. One of the most dangerous problems faced by gay/lesbian youth is isolation. They are isolated by the perception and myth that the are no lesbians or gay men in our families, communities, and certainly not in our schools. The most painful isolation they are subject to is caused by the fear of rejection from their families. They segregate themselves or part of themselves from their families. They can become distant and quiet, unwilling and unable to talk with their families. The fear of discovery and rejection forces many gay/lesbian youth to withdraw from family and even close friends. These children are the only minority group to feel the oppression and rejection of our society even within their own families. For many of these young people there is no safe place to go for advice and understanding. Even for those whose parents would react with understanding, the fear of rejection is so great that it silences them. Schools, churches, scouts, and youth centers have traditionally been the safe place for those who did not have a safe home, but these institutions have generally failed lesbian/gay youth.
Second, the group provides a non-threatening way for youth to educate themselves about what it means to be homosexual/bisexual and how that one aspect of identity can be incorporated into their plans and hopes for the future. The invisibility of homosexuality/bisexuality and fear of this controversial topic isolates young gay men and lesbians from positive role models and from accurate information on being gay, lesbian, or bi. Role models and unbiased information are needed to counter the continual broadcast of the message that being gay/lesbian is wrong. Without accurate and affirming information it is extremely difficult for lesbian/gay youth to integrate their sexual/affectional orientation into the rest of their identity. As part of the education component, the sponsors provide educational materials that members can select from to read at the center or to take home.
Third, the group provides a forum for the youth to discuss problems and concerns with people their own age who can understand what they are experiencing. Adolescence is a confusing and anxiety provoking period for all young people. The mixture of these emotions with the isolation and fear that gay/lesbian children feel can be very dangerous. In 1989, the Department of Health and Human Services commissioned a report on Teen Suicide. The report stated that more than 5,000 teens die as a result of suicide each year and that lesbian/gay teens account for up to 30% of all completed suicides. These figures suggest that these teens are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual teens. The report also stated that suicide was the leading cause of death for lesbian/gay youth. Another study published in Pediatrics magazine in June 1991 stated that 30% of gay/lesbian youth attempt suicide before the age of 17. Yet, despite these chilling figures, few schools or community organizations have taken any measures to forestall these deaths.
Fourth, the group provides a safe space for the youth to meet other lesbian and gay youth for building new friendship and for dating. Lesbian and gay youth experience social isolation; it is difficult and potentially dangerous for them to locate and befriend members of their peer group. All young adults need friends who are undergoing the same experiences. This is an important function of the group, "straight" (non-gay) youth meet new friends and dating partners at school, church, scouts/explorers, at the malls, in fact almost anywhere, but for gay/lesbian teens it is not so easy. Where can a 16 year old lesbian go to hang out with her peers, and how would she even know where to go? Many of the places gay/lesbian youth do find to socialize are dangerous places, where they are subject to violence and exploitation from other young people and adults. The sponsors ensure that the support group and other One-In-Teen activities take place in safe places that are free from threats, violence, and exploitation.