In the early months of 2011, The LGBTQ Center of the Finger Lakes was born out of the recognition that there are very few safe spaces for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer and Questioning people in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York.
Geneva is a very conservative rural town with a population of about 11,000 people. The closest LGBTQ friendly spaces are about an hour and a half drive in either direction. The Center’s programmatic focus is on community awareness and training campaigns for youth service providers. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network in our 2011 National School Climate Survey we found that nearly all LGBT students in rural areas, like Geneva have heard homophobic remarks. For example:
• 97% of rural LGBT students heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) sometimes, often, or frequently in school. 94% heard other homophobic language (“dyke” or “faggot”) sometimes, often, or frequently.
• Only 13% of rural LGBT students said staff members intervened most or all of the time when homophobic comments were made, and only 11% said that staff members intervened most or all of the time when negative comments were made about gender expression.
• A quarter or more of students also had heard school staff make homophobic remarks (25%), sexist remarks (30%), or negative remarks about someone’s gender expression (35%) sometimes, often, or frequently.
This was a clear evidence base for the need for professional development and training in schools and organizations throughout our community.