Shawna Kemppainen has been executive director of Inside/Out Youth Services since August. She brings eight years of experience at local nonprofits, in grant-writing, fundraising, advocacy and development. Inside/Out’s mission is to educate, empower and advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, inter-sexed and questioning youth.
Is the LGBT community growing in the Springs?
The number of people who are willing and able and (find it) safer to be themselves is growing. The number of youth getting involved and getting out in the community is growing. So far this year, Inside/Out (has helped) 575 youth; last year we had 480 all year. The friendships and alliances they make here are life-saving. Twenty percent of the youth who come here are straight. It’s becoming more acceptable to say you’re an ally.
How adequate are the resources available for LGBT youth who run into trouble with their families?
There are some resources in this community already, and we need to build on them. We need full-time counseling support services, a shelter, and more crisis support. We’re open every night for a little while, but one of our goals is to double or triple that amount of face-to-face time we can have with youth — not just the youth who are in crisis. (We want them to be) happy, healthy, whole people — productive members of our community — growing into young adults, feeling secure and supported.
What are your top three goals as executive director?
My top three goals are to make sure than more LGBT youth are safer and healthier in more places in our community. To let everyone in the community know they can make a difference; that being an ally is about standing up and standing with these kids. It’s not about quiet affirmation. And to clear the path for these kids so that the future of Colorado Springs is safe streets, safe schools, safe churches, everywhere they go — not just inside a youth center.
What can the business community do to help?
The business community can play an important role by naming discrimination when they see it, and stopping it. And by looking at their personnel policies and changing the language to be more inclusive. People can play a (supportive) role by not assuming that everyone who applies for a job, or every client or customer, is heterosexual. When adult and youth are allies in the community — it makes a difference. It gives hope and heart to these kids, so they can stand up in their boots and walk around in their liberty each day. They can do that because their allies are standing there with them. For every one student who is bullied and harassed in school because of sexual orientation or gender expression, there are four straight kids who are bullied because someone perceives them to be gay. This is not a gay issue; this is a community safety and health issue.