Out Youth Launches “Be YOU” Curriculum for LGBTQ Students
Developed to support the emotional and social well-being of LGBTQ middle and high school students
Thanks to LGBTQ youth services nonprofit Out Youth, schools and community organizations in Central Texas and throughout the country now have more tools to help support the mental health and well-being of young LGBTQ adults. As of January, qualified professionals at schools, school districts, and community-based orgs can purchase access to Out Youth's "Be YOU: Young, Outspoken, Unbreakable" curriculum, which the nonprofit developed to support the emotional and social well-being of LGBTQ middle and high school students.
Now operating in 13 Central Texas schools, Be YOU is the first research-informed, evidence-based curriculum developed for LGBTQ youth anywhere, according to Sarah Kapostasy, Out Youth's clinical and social services director. The local nonprofit was already providing school-based services around Central Texas when it received a St. David's Foundation grant in 2016 to both expand the reach of those offerings – particularly in Title I middle schools and high schools serving concentrations of low-income students – and conceive a formal curriculum.
"We wanted to go out in the community to offer our services, especially to youth in the queer and trans community who are people of color, and who, for a variety of reasons, were unable to access our services at our drop-in center in Central Austin," Kapostasy said. In partnership with Communities in Schools of Central Texas and UT's SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity): Health and Rights lab, Out Youth spent Be YOU's 2017-18 pilot year developing a program that specifically targeted reducing "minority stress" among LGBTQ students through what Kapostasy describes as "psychoeducational support groups" at schools.
"Minority stress" refers to the unique stressors faced by marginalized communities, and their effects on mental health. Kapostasy offered this scenario: When a middle school student is called an anti-LGBTQ slur in the hallway, they spend the rest of the day ruminating over the incident and begin internalizing that slur. "We want to work to stop folks from using those [words] in the first place, of course, but we also wanted to recognize that youth have control over how they respond when that unfortunate thing happens." Through research from UT's SOGI lab, Out Youth recognized that targeting minority stress and giving youth ways to cope with those stressors – strategies like journaling, meditation, deep breathing, or seeking support from friends – is what ultimately impacts mental health outcomes, Kapostasy explained. During that pilot year, Be YOU saw an increase in students' emotion regulation and a decrease in rumination as a result of its interventions.
Be YOU's social-entrepreneurial component – which is, as Kapostasy described, a "trend in the nonprofit world right now" – will translate Out Youth's sales of access to the year-one curriculum into funding to expand the program, which it plans to do with an eventual year-two curriculum. "It's inspiring to me that somebody might be able to implement this in rural Alabama," said Kapostasy. "It could reach youth in that pretty challenging setting and help instill a sense of coping, but also hope and community."