Why I'm Dedicated to Supporting LGBTQ Youth

06/20/2017 08:36 am ET

Penny Lane is social services agency located in Los Angeles. The doors were opened in December 1969, originally as a group home for girls. Penny Lane has expanded over the last 45+ years to include multiple locations and services throughout Los Angeles. Today, the agency serves about 5000 youth and their families each month through its mental health clinics, group homes, foster homes, and a variety of other social services. Throughout its existence, Penny Lane has provided homes and services for LGBTQ youth.

Los Angeles has a large LGBTQ population, as many young people come to the area for either the hope of fame and fortune, the good weather, or just to get away from bad home lives. There are far more homeless LGBTQ youth proportionate to other young people, as many of them are forced from their homes of origin due to a lack of acceptance, understanding, and/or religious tolerance. Unfortunately, many of these youths are ill-equipped for life on their own and end up within the social services system.

In 2007, there was an agency in Los Angeles that billed itself as the “gay group home” placement. Unfortunately, they found themselves in a position where they could no longer keep operating. There was a great deal of discussion among the various social service providers in Los Angeles County in terms of “what to do with these kids.” Penny Lane reiterated that we had always, and would continue to, take LGBT youth into our programs. In addition, noting the need to educate providers and those working with LGBTQ youth and their families, Penny Lane decided to put on the EDGY Conference.

In 2008, the EDGY Conference was attended by about 100 providers and professionals working with LGBTQ youth. The aim of the conference was to present attendees with tools that would enable them to better understand and, by extension, provide better services to LGBTQ youth. Penny Lane’s goal was to provide caregivers, social workers, and other professionals the most “cutting edge” information and methodologies on how to work with, and positively impact, the lives of LGBTQ young people and their families. In turn, these youths would then make positive impacts within the system, their societies, and their families of origin or families of choice.

In recent years, the LGBTQ movement has achieved some great successes, such as the Right to Marry which was upheld by the Supreme Court. Many celebrities have “come out,” which has created visibility for the LGBTQ community encouraging young people to embrace their identities. Despite the advancements of the LGBTQ rights movement, there is still a need for EDGY. In 2016, EDGY saw its largest audience to date – almost 700 participants – and expanded to include youth, professionals, foster and adoptive parents, and other interested and impacted groups. EDGY continues to provide the latest information in terms of LGBTQ youth and interventions to work effectively with the youth and their families. One of the goals of the conference is that people walk away not only with physical resources and guides to help them, but that they are also empowered to work with this population to enable them to make positive impacts in their lives and communities. This year the theme of the conference is “Embracing Identities,” which underlines the goal that each person is special, capable, amazing, and wonderful for who they are and what they can do.

As the CFO of Penny Lane, I am a few steps removed from program services; this means that I don’t experience the direct positive impact of changing lives that many of my coworkers do every day. I volunteered to be part of the EDGY Conference because I saw it as my personal way to be more directly involved in client services, as well as to fulfill my own long-held aspiration to do something to better the LGBTQ community. In 2006 I, Bernie LaFianza, came to work at Penny Lane where I joined some of my birth family – my sister and a number of my cousins – as the Chief Financial Officer. As CFO, I was one of nine executives overseeing the day-to-day operation. Personally, I am responsible for all financial operations including accounting and payroll, but also have responsibility for IT, Property, and Business Development. I have been part of EDGY from day one and am one of the few who have attended every single EDGY Conferences since its inception.

The first EDGY Conference was one of my proudest professional and personal moments. The faces of EDGY have changed, but I have never stopped working on this project and all it has become. Every year, the conference grows in scope, impact, and attendance - and every year I am even more proud than I was the year before. More importantly, I feel fulfilled. Now, I am part of the conversation moving LGBTQ rights forward! It is my opportunity to do my part. I’m happy to say that my company, Penny Lane, shares its pride in the EDGY Conference, as does my own family. Honestly, being part of EDGY has taught me so much, given me more faith in myself and others, helped me to appreciate my own story, and ultimately dissipate much of the negativity and stigma I felt as gay man growing up in my family. The conference is something that could change your life too, as many have attested! We invite you to join us! http://bit.ly/2rzNOb0

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