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Cover Story

Kicked out for coming out

Zebra Coalition gives homeless LGBTQ kids a helping hand

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

The coalition shares the Zebra Foundation's mission: "to foster hope, dignity and self-respect in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth and to provide them an opportunity to grow up in a safe, healthy and supportive environment." It picks up where parents abruptly left off, providing a safe haven for 13- to 24-year-olds in danger of getting lost in a social-services mess of numbers, dollar signs and red tape. The coalition is comprised of 19 Central Florida partner organizations, including government agencies, social services providers, schools, churches and universities. Together, they make sure young people who seek their help have access to all the services they need.

Partnership is at the heart of everything the coalition does, and it is that spirit of partnership that first attracted Zebra Coalition director Dexter Foxworth to the organization. "Zebra Coalition was attractive to me because of what it does to the community," says Foxworth, who has been with the coalition since February and whose position is staffed by the Center for Drug Free Living. "Because it brings every organization and agency together to focus on the cause."

The Center for Drug Free Living provides much of the structure that made the Zebra Coalition possible. The house does not provide shelter, for instance, but it can refer people to LGBTQ-friendly shelter provided by the Center for Drug Free Living. The Center for Drug Free Living also provides funding not just for Foxworth's position, but also for a clinical manager to work at the coalition, as well as behavioral assistance for young people in need. In addition to the Center for Drug Free Living, the GLBT Community Center, Human Services Associates, PFLAG Orlando, Rollins College, University of Central Florida, the City of Orlando Housing and Community Development, the Coalition for the Homeless and Equality Florida, among others, participate in the Zebra Coalition. They partner to provide kids with everything from shelter to counseling to education and career resources – even food and clothing.

Statistics cited by the coalition indicate that 80 percent of gay and bisexual youth "report severe problems with cognitive, social or emotional isolation," which is why the organization has made it a point to partner with such a wide variety of organizations offering so many specialized facets of care. While other organizations in Orlando exist to serve young LGBTQ people – Zebra Coalition member the Orlando Youth Alliance, for instance, has provided peer support, counseling and safe space for LGBTQ teens since 1990 – the Zebra Coalition is unique in that it provides such a broad range of services and partnerships, according to Foxworth.

Randy Stephens, executive director of coalition partner and neighbor organization the Center (located practically across the street from the Zebra Coalition House), is excited about the new addition to the Mills corridor. It can be difficult for an organization like the Center, which hosts numerous counseling and addiction-services programs for the LGBTQ community, to find the specialized resources to care for minors as well as adults.

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