Harm Reduction Education
Substance abuse is markedly higher amongst LGBTQ youth than their heterosexual and/or cisgendered peers. At Out Now, we are committed to addressing all the issues LGBTQ youth face, even the unglamorous ones. When youth enter the doors of Out Now, we want to create a space that is welcoming and non-judgmental. It is critical that we connect with youth where they’re at, and provide programs and strategies to improve their lives.
The Harm Reduction Education Workshop series is taught by youth, for youth. We hold workshops in our office, at schools, community centers, and conferences. We believe in the multiplier model: as we teach others how to engage healthfully in the sphere of drugs and alcohol, we create peer educators who can then grow the seeds of harm reduction in their communities.
But what is harm reduction?
Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies that reduce negative consequences of drug use, incorporating a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use to abstinence. Harm reduction strategies meet drug users “where they’re at,” addressing conditions of use along with the use itself.
Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies designed to serve drug users reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction. However, harm reduction considers the following principles central to its praxis:
- Accepts, for better and for worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.
- Understands drug use as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others.
- Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being–not necessarily cessation of all drug use–as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.
- Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and the communities in which they live in order to assist them in reducing attendant harm.
- Ensures that drug users and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
- Affirms drugs users themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use, and seeks to empower users to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use.
- Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people’s vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.
- Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger associated with licit and illicit drug use.
Our Liberation! Theatre
“Our Liberation!” is an interactive performance workshop that we present at school and community organizations. This project uses Theater of the Oppressed techniques in which the audience and presenters work together to strategize and disrupt incidents of oppression.
Theater of the Oppressed calls on participants to re-imagine the roles of actor and spectator, merging them together to create spect-actors. With the increased attention being paid to peer abuse and harassment and how it contributes to increased rates of suicide among LGBTQ youth, we believe that our Theater of the Oppressed workshop has great potential to empower our audiences to intervene and stop oppressive and violent behavior among peers that has its roots in racism, homophobia, and other oppressive systems.
Queer Empowerment Through Solidarity & Truth
QuEST (QUeer Empowerment thru Solidarity and Truth) youth are dedicated to educating ourselves and others about the intersections between queer youth and the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).
QuEST strives to stop relying on incarceration as a way of solving our problems and to learn ways to resolve conflicts without revenge or violence. Our work is multidimensional in both content and methods. We have chosen to relay our message using both audio and visuals that speak to the work that we do in the office and in the community.
QuEST considers all of the interlocking systems of the PIC to be profiting off of the pain of people of color, poor people, queer people and other oppressed people. We work hard to combat oppression and create an equal society where we all strive for our individual and collective liberation.
Youth Leadership Training
Out Now is committed to developing the leadership capacity of our youth – in our schools, communities, and beyond. More info coming soon!
Drop-In Safe SpaceWe have drop-in hours every Wednesday between 5-7 PM for all youth, whether it is a first time visit or a weekly chill session. We work to make this a safe space where you will be heard and supported, where we can build community, educate, and empower ourselves.
Community Coalition for Justice
In 2011 the Community Coalition for Justice celebrated 2 victories: first, following the consistent and determined pressure that we focused on the police department for police accountability regarding the beating of Melvin Jones, it finally led to the firing of one of the lead officers, Jeffery Asher who was caught on tape beating him with a flashlight.
The second was when the DA announced that all the charges against Melvin Jones following the traffic stop that resulted in his brutal beating would be dropped. All of the stand-out protests, use of the media, community meetings, letter writing campaigns, and meetings with city officials paid off.
With these victories, though, are accompanying challenges; for instance, although Jeffery Asher has been fired (and, this white cop has been a particular menace in the city for nearly a decade as he has had numerous incidents that have had serious racial implications), he currently is allowed to receive his pension (and he is only 39 years of age). The only way he will be unable to collect his pension is if he is convicted of a felony charge stemming from charges that have been pressed against him by the legal team of Melvin Jones. To date CCJ has organized around each court date of Asher’s, and we will continue throughout his trial, which may be scheduled for November or December 2011.
So what do we do? We keep organizing!
In June of 2011 Out Now was a part of the Springfield Pride Organizing Committee, which worked to bring Pride back into our city for the first time in 8 long years. We were very involved in the organizing of this event and worked to ensure that it was both a celebration and true to the political roots of Pride.
We held a series of 4 events over the course of one week to celebrate the diversity and beauty of our community.
We organized the following 4 Pride events:
• A film showing of, “Out In The Silence,” featuring a discussion with its filmmaker, Joe Wilson. Out In The Silence shows Wilson being drawn back to his small Pennsylvania hometown to share the story of a teenager tormented at school because he is gay, and the struggle the teen’s mother goes through to get school authorities to do something about it. In the film, Wilson also strikes up an unexpected friendship with a conservative evangelical pastor and his wife, and follows the trials and tribulations of a local lesbian couple who can catalyze the rust-belt town’s economic revitalization if they find community acceptance. Intertwined with these heartfelt stories is Wilson’s exploration of the role that a local ‘family values’ group plays in stoking anti-gay bigotry in the town. At once wrenching, entertaining, and inspiring, the film ultimately shows the individual and community transformations that are possible when people on all sides of these challenging issues speak out and take the time to get to know one another.
• A flag raising event at the Springfield City Hall, where the Mayor and City Councilor President read proclamations from the city in support of Pride Month activities. Other community leaders and organization representatives spoke as well, and then a very large rainbow flag was raised up, and flown in front of the City Hall.
• A Town Hall speak out was next, where a staff from Oiste, MassEquality, an‘out’ lesbian minister, and 2 Out Now youth among others spoke of the state of our LGBT community.
• The final event was a 2-part party/celebration, the first open to all, but focused on youth, which was held at Out Now’s new office headquarters. The second that same evening was for the 18+ community and took place at Springfield’s LGBT club.
Overall we were quite pleased with Springfield Pride Week. We are certain the attendance could have even been better, though, since our events were scheduled only one week after the tornado hit our community quite hard. In spite of it all, we held the events, made some new contacts, offered the community a variety of experiences, and ended in a celebratory fashion.
The profound meaning of this work was reinforced for us when, in June of 2011, a group of young people aged 12-19 assaulted an openly gay man in our city. We believe that our anti-violence, community-building, and popular education/outreach work will be informed and affected by this event as we work towards an inclusive Springfield Pride next year. The week was a great success and we are now continuing our work to ensure that Springfield Pride centers the voices of youth, people of color, and the political legacy and current struggles of our communities.
Stop the Hate Coalition
We are currently engaged in responding to Scott Lively’s presence in Springfield. Lively is a noted anti-gay activist who founded the Abiding Truth Ministries, which were classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. We have been working to inform our community about his hateful messages and are currently collecting signatures for a full-page ad condemning his homophobia and demanding an apology in the Springfield Republican. Our role as a youth organization in this work is especially crucial, given that his current coffeehouse is less than a block away from a high school. We plan on continuing to work to neutralize and counter his messages of hate by working towards a Springfield in which homophobia/transphobia are simply unacceptable. We plan to respond to events such as the recent hate violence that occurred in Springfield, as well as continue to do popular education and outreach with the intention of making our city a safer place for us all.
Take a look at the popular education ad that we are putting out as well as a video of one of the actions that we held: