Indiana Youth Group Champions LGBTQ+ Youngsters
Writer / Renee Larr
Photographer / ????
Indiana Youth Group (IYG) has served LGBTQ+ youths in the Indianapolis area for over 35 years by providing supportive programming to empower adolescents and young adults. What started as a drop-in community center in 1987 has become a beacon of hope for LGBTQ+ people aged 12 to 24.
Chief Executive Officer Chris Paulsen says one in four LGBTQ+ youths are kicked out of the family home when they come out, due to family rejection. This often leads to couch surfing or staying with friends. In response, IYG launched Project Prism in October of 2020.
“The goal of our rapid rehousing program is to get LGBTQ+ youth into stable, long-term housing,” Paulsen says. “We work with various apartments around the city and pay the rent and utilities. Many of our clients are victims of generational poverty or homelessness, and they’re just trying to break the cycle.”
IYG also provides much-needed case management for individuals in need. Paulsen says case managers interview and assess youth to determine any additional support needed in mental health, suicide prevention, housing, and legal assistance. IYG also offers assistance with basic needs like transportation, hygiene and cleaning products, and clothing.
“Our case managers do a lot of the work themselves, but we do refer the youth that comes to us to different community partners,” Paulsen says. “Our main focus is reducing suicide ideation in queer youth. Around 40% of LGBTQ+ youth have considered suicide in the last year. That is something that we definitely want to address, and make sure that they have a space that is both welcoming and supportive of whoever they say they are.”
Paulsen says IYG FAM is a support group for parents who are trying to understand their young person’s gender identity or sexual orientation, and trying to become more supportive of that young person. She says case managers and mental-health experts guide parents through meetups, online support and one-on-one family counseling.
IYG provides LGBTQ+ Competency Training to businesses, religious groups, educational programs and community groups. Paulsen says the program offers information on topics like proper use of pronouns, gender identity, supporting someone transitioning in the workplace, and ways to improve support of LGBTQ+ youths.
Many of IYG’s clients are referred by a school counselor, mental-health therapist or friend. Paulsen says many of the youths they serve bring friends with them. Some stumble upon IYG through a Google search.
Each year the organization hosts a Youth Summit. The conference provides guest speakers, workshops, discussions and symposiums. Paulsen says the all-day event brings together 100 to 150 youths each year.
Paulsen says the organization also advocates both within the community and at the Statehouse for LGBTQ+ youth acceptance in every space. IYG needs both volunteers and monetary donations. She says there are many ways people can get involved.
While the programming has changed, the core of IYG’s mission stays the same – providing LGBTQ+ youths the best chance at being their authentic selves as they grow into adulthood.
“We’re still a drop-in center where kids can be their true selves and have fun,” Paulsen says. “We serve a hot meal and have karaoke, but we’ve bolstered our programming and case management throughout the years.”
Paulsen says IYG moved to its current location at 3733 North Meridian Street five years ago with a purpose. The site is easily accessible, with the Red Line right outside. She says they chose the area knowing the neighborhood they would be supporting. The building is adorned with rainbow-colored, waving hands, making it a noticeable LGBTQ+ safe space.
“Recently, Homeland Security put out a warning for LGBTQ spaces,” Paulsen says. They met with a former FBI agent to look at their systems. They have cameras and doors that automatically lock. There is a high level of security here, which is made possible with the help of experts like Government Premises Security Services.
While many of the services offered are in person, IYG clients can also participate online. Paulsen says participants can log on daily and speak with peers and adult mentors on any topic they choose.