Tampa YMCA bolsters LGBTQ outreach with Metro, Pride

ABOVE: Representatives from the Tampa YMCA, Metro Inclusive Health and St Pete Pride June 1. Photo by Ryan Williams-Jent.

TAMPA | The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA is partnering with Metro Inclusive Health to support Tampa Bay’s LGBTQ community during and after this year’s St Pete Pride.

The YMCA is the nation’s largest and oldest service organization, assisting 17 million members in and outside of the country. The Tampa YMCA has done so in Hillsborough and East Pasco counties since 1889, reaching more than 160,000 people each year.

The organization utilizes programming designed to “build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all” with its Judeo-Christian principles. Services extend to members of the LGBTQ community, officials share, as “strengthening community is our cause and ensuring access, inclusion and engagement for all is fundamental.”

The YMCA utilizes Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to strengthen its bonds to the community, elevating voices which have traditionally been underrepresented within the organization. One such group is its LGBTQIA+ Resource Network, chaired by Jimmy Biascan and Shannon McAllister.

The LGBTQ-focused ERG has held a number of meetings and social gatherings, most recently during Tampa Pride. The 2021 parade marked the first time the Tampa YMCA participated in the event, which it utilized to raise awareness for its “The Y is for ALL” initiative.

To help fund the venture, the ERG utilized a portion of a grant from the Florida State Alliance of YMCAs Foundation, given to strengthen LGBTQ outreach. Biascan and McAllister also utilized funds to establish relationships with Metro Inclusive Health and St Pete Pride, whose missions align with the YMCA’s.

In 2020, Metro’s LGBTQ-focused programming reached more than 2,500 youth and young adults, largely via virtual means. Their efforts this year will include the annual LGBTQ+ Youth Summer Camp, which returns with in-person July 5-9 and 12-16 to provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth ages 13-17.

St Pete Pride, traditionally Florida’s largest LGBTQ-focused celebration, is currently hosting its month-long PrideFest 2021. We Are Family, its inaugural family-focused event will be held June 12. The Tampa YMCA purchased 40 tickets to provide entry for LGBTQ youth who participate.

“As a former Metro employee with an opportunity to give back to my community through my new employer … providing tickets so Metro LGBTQ+ youth could attend St Pete Pride’s Family Day for free wasn’t even a decision,” Biascan explains. “I just had to make it happen.

“Shannon and I just had the pleasure of organizing the Tampa Y’s participation in Tampa Pride’s Diversity Parade for the first time ever,” he continues. “By creating these community partnerships – now with Metro and St Pete Pride – I feel we are showing all of Tampa Bay that through our passion and collaboration we can provide inclusive spaces that are for ALL.”

While forming the LGBTQ-focused group with Biascan, McAllister was drawn to Metro for that very reason. “Their dedication to creating safe youth programming aligned with goals of the Tampa Y and with my vision of what our ERG could create in the future,” she explains.

“As our group started to grow and receive funding to give back to youth in the community, it only felt right to start by giving to the organization that gave us inspiration,” McAllister continues. “I’m grateful that Metro was able to help us get these tickets to their teen participants.”

Metro is thankful as well. The organization says that the donation will allow LGBTQ youth to celebrate St Pete Pride with their friends and families, chosen and non.

“This opportunity gives our youth a chance to be present in the community, to show up as advocates and talk about their experiences with Metro programs and how it fosters their development as thoughtful, inclusive citizens,” LGBTQ+ and Marketing Services Manager Topher Larkin says. “After a year and a half of staying inside, our youth are more than excited to start re-connecting with others and building community again.”

Moving forward, the YMCA will utilize the remainder of grant funds to set up community resource tables throughout its 15 locations detailing Metro’s work. They’re also planning to provide LGBTQ inclusion training for staff, leaders and more.

“We are committed to building a more equitable community where ALL of our neighbors feel safe and secure and where everyone can reach their full potential with dignity,” the YMCA advises. “In a diverse world, we are stronger when we are inclusive, when our doors are open to all and when everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.”

For event, programming and more information about the Tampa Y, Metro Inclusive Health and St Pete Pride, visit TampaYMCA.org, MetroTampaBay.org and StPetePride.com.

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