Credit: Em Espey

Congressmen David Trone and Jamie Raskin and Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (all D-Md.) announced Monday that an organization that works with LGBTQ+ youth in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County will receive $530,000 to help prevent violence against LGBTQ+ youth, according to a press release.

“The rise of targeted violence against LGBTQ+ communities demands additional investments to protect young people at risk,” the lawmakers said in the release.

This grant money was distributed after a spike in anti-LGBTQ+ hate incidents in Maryland from 2021 to 2022, increasing from 15 to 33, which is a 120% percent increase, according to the Maryland Department of State Police’s 2022 Hate Bias report.

This grant money is going to the Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL), which will develop “programming to address the risk of violence and negative mental health outcomes faced by LGBTQ+ youth in D.C. and Montgomery County,” according to the release.

The organization will offer in-school support and resilience programs for LGBTQ+ youth from ages 6 to 24, educational training for school staff and youth service providers and support for parents and caregivers.

Erin Whelan, executive director of SMYAL, told MoCo360 in an email statement that this grant will help them make sure that classrooms are safe and affirming spaces for LGBTQ+ youth.

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“If we teach young people inclusivity and exemplify what it means to accept and celebrate differences, we effect incredible change as they grow into teenagers and adults,” Whelan said. “We know if youth have at least one supportive and affirming adult, it has a tremendous impact on how they feel about themselves and how they walk in their everyday lives.”

The funding is provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) Grant Program for Fiscal Year 2023, which is the main U.S. federal government grant program dedicated to helping local communities combat targeted violence and terrorism, according to the release.

On Sept. 6, the Department of Homeland Security announced that 34 grants, totaling $20 million, would be distributed under the program, its website said.

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The other grant recipients include universities, agencies and organizations located nationwide, according to the website. and populations These other recipients focus on reducing violence in a variety of settings, like K-12 schools, universities, law enforcement and workplaces.

Despite all the challenges and hardships facing LGBTQ+ youth, Whelan said she and SMYAL feel hopeful going forward with this new funding to help push their mission.

“We feel hopeful for the future because when young people feel supported and seen as their whole selves, they can focus on school, improve their mental health, and truly thrive in a community where they feel they belong,” Whelan said.

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