Orlando Provider a Zebra of a Different Stripe

Learn about the suite of recovery support services that the Zebra Coalition in Orlando, Fla., offers gay and transgender youth experiencing homelessness.

Two years ago, Dexter Foxworth left a successful career in the arts and entertainment industry to respond to the crisis that he saw confronting youth in Central Florida. Now as the Executive Director of the Zebra Coalition in Orlando, he works to provide a full continuum of services for marginalized youth.

Foxworth was shocked by rates in which gay and transgender youth lose their homes at the young age of 13 or 14, as they come out to their parents. “LGBT+ youth were not getting their needs met. While struggles for equality were going on all over the world, there was still no change for LGBT+ youth.”

In 2012, Foxworth joined the fight for equality in his own community as the Coalition’s executive director. Founded approximately three years ago, the Coalition works to ensure that young adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and/or two-spirited (LGBT+) have access to safe, healthy, and supportive environments that foster hope, dignity, and self-respect.

The Coalition is comprised of twenty-one members that include faith-based organizations, business associations, community groups, school districts, and government agencies. It is the only organization in Central Florida that provides a full continuum of services to LGBT+ youth. Together, the network of partners provides short-term housing, medical services, food and clothing, and mental and substance use disorder recovery support services to youth and young adults.

One of the Coalition’s central goals is to support LGBT+ youth facing rejection from their families. LGBT+ youth, experiencing high levels of family rejection, are over eight times more likely to attempt suicide and over three times more likely to use illegal drugs than those who face little to no family rejection. Conversely, LGBT+ youth receiving the support of their families are in better health overall and face lower levels of health risks.

Emerging Coalition Efforts

The Coalition’s most recent effort aims to increase dialogue about substance use disorders among LGBT+ youth and the parents and adults in their lives. By increasing general understanding of the dangers of substance use among community members, Foxworth hopes to combat acceptance of drug and alcohol use. “It is so widely accepted to drink and abuse substances in the LGBT+ community,” explained Foxworth. “We are hoping talking about it will help.”

Using the support of a recently awarded Drug Free Community Support Program grant, the Coalition will leverage existing partnerships and build on current marketing and educational initiatives within the Orange County School District, as well as begin new, innovative outreach efforts. One such initiative includes hosting “fireside chats” in the homes of local families.

Fireside chats will begin in early 2014 in the homes of current Coalition members. Through their partnerships with local organizations like the Orange County School District, the Metropolitan Business Association of South Florida, and local ministries and faith-based organizations, Coalition staff will reach out to parents who are already actively involved in the Coalition’s twenty-one partner organizations.

“We are going into people’s homes and inviting other parents in order to start a dialogue so people can ask questions and we can increase our reach,” explained Foxworth. He hopes a comfortable environment will encourage parents to ask questions and foster conversation and understanding among family members. Additionally, the Coalition will continue its work with the Orange County School District to provide teacher trainings, work with school-based gay-straight alliances, and distribute informational and anti-bullying posters.

Other Coalition Services

The Coalition also offers prevention and treatment services. The Coalition operates a drop-in center in Orlando with regular weekday hours, as well as a 24-hour crisis hotline at 877-90-ZEBRA. Through their partnership with the Center for Drug Free Living, the Coalition employs on-site clinical staff and provides visitors with access to individual and group counseling services. Visitors can also access free HIV/STD testing; join theater, music, and art groups; participate in yoga classes; and receive job training, among other opportunities.

This article was originally published as a Voices from the Field Blog post to highlight the theme of Minority Behavioral Health. Find the latest SAMHSA Blog posts about behavioral health and homelessness.

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Carolyn Angius
Last Updated: 04/19/2016