MARK MY WORDS: Bringing our youth home

by Mark Segal

From Philadelphia Gay News - Last week, my phone rang and the voice on the other end very apprehensively said their name and then, "I'm the one who has been in a 'conversion-therapy' camp." Then, they began to cry. Here's how this saga began:

A friend called me saying she had a relative whose friend felt their child wasn't acting in coordination with their gender. Hoping to "correct" their child, the parents began looking for resources and discovered a "camp" that practices "conversion therapy" out West. So, they escorted their child to the airport, put the child on a plane to be met at the airport on the other side by a "camp" employee. All this so the child would not escape. The child was now in a part of the country and place they had no knowledge of, without knowing anyone, and without any money - virtually taken prisoner.

Prison is a place where all of your activities and time are restricted and you live within the rules of the guards. This had all of those traits but added something that no state prison is allowed to do these days - mental and physical torture. Our LGBT youth in conversion therapy are being treated worse than people convicted of murder, burglary or violent crimes.

Not knowing what the next round of torture would be, the child escaped and called home to a friend in suburban Philadelphia pleading for help. That call somehow arrived at my desk.

I'm not new to any of this, and neither is almost anyone at this newspaper. We've gotten these calls for almost 40 years now since PGN has been in existence and, for me, it's been a 45-year battle fighting for LGBT youth. We in Gay Youth New York in 1969-71 dealt with this issue without the resources our community luckily has today.

The first thing to do is listen: Allow the person to get out what he or she needs to express. Then, assure him or her that there is a community of which they can be a part that accepts and cherishes them. Then, the hard point: putting their lives back on track, from the derailment caused by their parents and conversion-therapy camp therapists.

The community in Philadelphia has two nonprofits that sprang into action after my emails for help. The Attic Youth Center focuses on programs for youth while Mazzoni Center can offer assistance with trauma and medical needs. Both are now working on this one case.

But there lies the issue: This was only one of many cases. And here's the catch: This youth, when back in the area, will be homeless, since their parents have disowned them.

Help might be on the way. Sister Mary Scullion (my favorite nun in the entire world) of Project HOME - the organization that works to provide housing and other services to disadvantaged groups - is in the early stages of talks with The Attic and Mazzoni to create a housing program specifically for LGBT youth.

As I said as when we were building the John C. Anderson Apartments, an affordable LGBT-friendly living facility for seniors, many seniors in our community have been left behind or forgotten. While we are building a community, it is important for us to not leave anyone behind, especially those endangered. This is a project that we welcome.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at or Twitter at

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