Education is a Right For Everyone

By Pretty Shongwe | Urban Agenda

For many people around the world, the phrase “education is freedom” is more than a motto; it is a life goal. You also don’t have to live outside of America to understand the struggle of striving for a better and brighter future.

Pretty 1According to the Constitutional Rights Foundation, while education may not be a “fundamental right” under the Constitution, the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment requires that when a state establishes a public school system, no child living in that state may be denied equal access to schooling.

I agree that education should not be a privilege, but a right. Every child should be given the chance to picture themselves holding tight to their high school diploma with proud smiles on their faces, knowing that they worked hard and reaping their rewards.

“Education is the most powerful weapon in which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa and a 1993 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
The United States Census Bureau reports that in October 2013, 25.9 percent of the entire population ages 3 and older, or 78 million people, were enrolled in school. But many schools in this country are underfunded, especially in poor communities.

Three years ago on May 24, 2013, I arrived in the United States from the Republic of South Africa with many hopes and dreams of a better future. I knew that America was a land of opportunity, and I wasn’t going to let my chance go by.

There are numerous differences between educational systems in South Africa and the United States. In South Africa, the student-teacher ratio in most public schools is so overwhelming that teachers would rather pass a failing student than have them repeat the class. The question of who is responsible for the failing students has been attributed to the fact that many of the students’ families are uneducated themselves and therefore are unable to assist them with their homework. Many public schools also lack sufficient funding to provide updated textbooks, install technology and employ more teachers.

According to South Africa’s Centre for Development and Enterprise, “one of the greatest challenges facing the South African education system is the production of sufficient qualified, competent teachers, who can provide quality teaching for all school subjects and phases.” Passionate and creative teachers who challenge their students are key in a good education but it’s difficult to teach a child who does not want to be taught.

Since I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, I have noticed that the government does not prioritize education. If it did, lawmakers would not have taken so long to pass the Act 84 of 2016, which requires them to adequately fund public schools. Some schools in this state have similar problems like South Africa.

Also, while the U.S. and R.S.A. differ in many ways, they have a common issue which is people of color, specifically black people, do not have the same educational opportunities.

According to a recent analysis of federal data by The Atlantic magazine, in most major American cities, nearly all African-American and Hispanic students attend public schools, where a majority of their classmates qualify as poor or low-income. This fact stands true for black students studying in South Africa as well.

The truth of the matter is every student deserves a quality education regardless of their racial background or family income.

I don’t believe that anyone can put a price on knowledge, and therefore education should be affordable. I think it’s the government’s responsibility to find new ways to educate its people, and it is the people’s job is to take advantage of the education provided.

“Until we get equality in education we won’t have an equal society,” said Sonia Sotomayor, a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice.

When education is treated as a right for everyone, endless positive opportunities await people in society.

Experts Predict Low Risk of Zika Infection in Allegheny County

By Sydney Barlow | Urban Agenda

Zika cases are on the rise in Allegheny County and across Pennsylvania, health officials said Monday. But Pittsburgh residents say it will not affect their daily lives.

According to county health officials, the Zika virus risk is small for residents because researchers have not detected the virus in mosquitos in Pennsylvania, meaning local residents acquired the virus elsewhere. However, officials are concerned that the numbers of infected people are expected to increase.

“There will be an increase because of people traveling,” said LuAnn Brinks, chief epidemiologist at the county Health Department.

The department tested more than 135 residents for the Zika virus through July 25. Seven tested positive, officials said. The state Department of Health reported 61 confirmed cases on Monday. However, the confirmed cases came from traveling to areas where the virus is prevalent, the department said.

Despite the increase in numbers, some Pittsburgh citizens are not concerned.

“I can’t say it would totally scare me,” said KJ Delvin, 21. “It’s not really in my everyday world, so I can’t say it’s a huge threat in my mind, but I understand that it is very dangerous.”

Kevin Galloway, 20, rates his concern “60 out of 100.”

“I just took a trip to Florida and I was getting bit by mosquitoes and some friends were joking about how there is Zika around and I heard afterwards there was Zika found in Florida,” Galloway said.

The Centers for Disease Control report 307 of the nation’s 433 confirmed Zika cases are in Florida. There were 14 confirmed cases this week of people in the Miami area who contracted the Zika virus directly from mosquitoes, believed to be the first such cases in the U.S, according to Florida health officials and the CDC.

As a result of the outbreak in the Miami neighborhood of Wynwood, the CDC this week warned pregnant women not to travel to Miami.

Zika is primarily transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes, according to a CDC bulletin. It also can be sexually transmitted. The virus typically produces mild symptoms, such as fever, rash and joint pain, in humans, the agency said.

Birth defects are the biggest fear.

Pregnant women who are infected can transmit the virus to their unborn child, which could result in abnormal brain and head shrinkage, also known as microcephaly.

Andrew Bencsics, 24, said he has researched the Zika virus while his fiancée is in Florida. He also said it concerned him that there were cases of the virus in Pittsburgh, but he knew the biggest risk was for pregnant women.

“It really only affects pregnant women badly, but the best defense against that is awareness, you know — not traveling to certain areas if you are trying to get pregnant. In another year or two, if I am trying to have a child, it’s definitely troublesome,” says Bencsics.

Jasmine Dixson, 27, believes the best way to help prevent the Zika virus is “to put information up at the workplace.”

There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine for Zika.

The National Institutes of Health is working on a vaccine to help stop the virus. As of June 28, the Harvard School of Medicine and NIH have created two vaccines that protected mice from the Zika virus, according to the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

Pennsylvania has also created an action plan to help prevent the spread of the Zika virus, which includes a free response plan that observes areas in the state where the virus is prevalent and provides free testing for travelers and prevention kits for pregnant women, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Robin Tkacz, 23, believes the action plan will be beneficial.

“If people were to know about it (the virus) and they were able to get tested after traveling, it would definitely help in the long run,” Tkacz said.

Brinks of the Allegheny County Health Department said that Pittsburgh will participate in a Zika action plan that traps mosquitos. She said that the department has received money from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for vector control on different species of mosquitos.

A mosquito-related outbreak in Western Pennsylvania is not expected, Brinks said.

“In Pittsburgh, there is almost no risk due to the climate,” she said.

 

Zika Virus Prevention

  • Pregnant women should postpone travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
  • Men who have traveled to areas with active Zika transmission should either abstain from sex or consistently and correctly use condoms with a pregnant partner for the duration of the pregnancy.
  • Persons who travel to affected areas should protect themselves from infection by taking steps to prevent mosquito bites. Protective measures include use of DEET repellents, long sleeves and pants, use of bed nets or enclosed rooms for sleeping.
  • Persons with suspected Zika infections should stay indoors and avoid mosquito bites for the first seven days of illness to prevent local transmission.
  • All persons who have traveled to Zika-affected areas should avoid mosquitos for three weeks after their return.

Sources: Allegheny County Health Department, Centers for Disease Control

 

Youth Turning to Social Media to Develop Political Voice

By Zoe Vongtau | Urban Agenda

In 2012, 45 percent of people ages 18-29 voted in the U.S. presidential election.

The statistic covers only those of legal voting age. What about those who can’t vote but are still politically active?

An upcoming senior at Baldwin High School, Emma Dowker, 17, is proof that the statistic doesn’t effectively represent all youth. Since the beginning of her junior year, she has become more involved and aware of hot-button issues through social media.

On Twitter, one of the platforms Dowker is most active on, she subscribes to politics-related accounts and people, including U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

“I always used (Twitter) to be social, then when I got political, I realized there were better ways to utilize it,” Dowker said.

She gets updates from political commentators on her favorite media sites, such as the Young Turks and Secular Talks, which analyze nationwide issues and aims to educate the public.

Dowker also drew inspiration from her brother, an American History major. “A lot of my political interest was rooted in conversations with him,” she said.

Since becoming interested in politics, Dowker has begun to consider a career in the field and taken her interest outside of the web. She has been involved locally with a grassroots organization that aims to keep Democrats in elected office through organizing and door-to-door volunteering.

“It’s good to experience things like this in high school,” Dowker said.

Despite being two months shy of voter eligibility for the 2016 Presidential election, Dowker still recognizes the importance of being aware of the events.

“The more I involve myself on what’s happening and educate myself [and] others, the more informed voters will be,” she said.

Paul Furiga, president and CEO of WordWrite Communications, affirmed Dowker’s involvement. “Social media gives someone who is not old enough to vote, a place to participate.”

Furiga recognizes how social media has influenced the way youth receive information about politics, specifically the campaign of Sanders.

In his campaign, Sen. Sanders used media such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and email to appeal to the younger generation.

“Bernie Sanders just seemed to capture what more young people wanted,” Furiga said.

Equally interested in being informed is upcoming sophomore Grace DeLallo, who says her presence on social media has helped boost her activism and interest in politics.

Before 8th grade, DeLallo, 15, said she had used her accounts on social media like many teenagers today — only to keep up with friends, celebrities and gossip.

After becoming tired of listening to peers spew misinformation, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I would hear people say things that made me upset,” she said. “I started to fight for my views. As a woman, I believe in equality. When people, not just women, are treated unequally or without decency or respect, it creates a fire in me and I cannot stand for it.”

For DeLallo, social media has been a resource. “It has brought topics and facts to my attention that otherwise I would have been too lazy or just not aware to research on my own without assistance,” she said.

Next year, DeLallo hopes to join The Women and Girls Foundation to continue her activism and gain political knowledge.

In response to teenagers like DeLallo who have a strong presence on social media, governmental organizations and companies have increased their own. One is Amie Downs, director of communications for Allegheny County.

Downs uses popular media like Twitter and Facebook to spread press releases, inform people on county issues and accidents, and share good news.

“It’s a quick and easy way to get info out as fast as possible,” Downs said.

Social platforms have been around for decades, and with these growing opportunities and applications, it doesn’t look like it’s going away soon.

School Discipline Of Black Girls Comes Under Scrutiny

By Ahmari Anthony | Urban Agenda

Black girls are suffering in silence.

President Barack Obama has launched My Brother’s Keeper, a national initiative to help mentor and support boys of color, with a chapter in Pittsburgh. Girls of color have received no such initiative.

Nia Hudson-Henriquez, 15, is in a community leadership program for black girls that partners with a similar program for boys here in Pittsburgh.

“Just yesterday, we found out that the boys went to the White House. We never been out of state,” she says.

The groups also attend retreats, she adds. While the girls classes and seminars end at 9 pm, and they must conform to a strict 9:30 curfew, Nia says, the boys are allowed to run free until 2 in the morning.

Such subtle inequities reflect a larger issue at hand: the dismissing of black girls. And one place that they suffer the most is most crucial to their development: school.

“We’re in the struggle against racial oppression and patriarchy together, and unless we examine everyone’s experience, we lose the ability to support our girls and young women as they seek to bounce back from adversity,” Monique Morris says in her book “Pushout.”

The term “pushout” refers to the non-inclusive, hyper-punitive policies and practices in place in public schools across the nation that disproportionately affect black girls. These things may disrupt or end their ability to participate and succeed in schools.

This phenomena of black girl pushout is attributed to many occurrences, from instances of black girls being suspended or threatened with expulsion because of their hairstyles to kindergarten-age black girls being handcuffed and placed in squad cars during tantrums.

“Being at school is like prison,” says Alleah Rose, an 18-year-old Pittsburgh Obama graduate. She has never liked school, even in elementary school, because she felt as though it did not cater to her needs. Especially in her senior year, she felt it was a “hostile environment” that did not allow for her and other black girls’ voices or leadership.

Morris’ book uses history, statistics and the narratives of black girls, like Nia and Allie, from across the country in various stages of their lives to highlight how the school and juvenile justice systems have failed or pipelined them.

“Pushout” describes how some of these issues are rooted in century-old stereotypes of promiscuous and angry women, such as the Jezebel or the Sapphire caricatures. Others stem from the lack of adequate support and resources for black girls with mental illnesses, learning disabilities, and childhood trauma. Others are simply flaws in school policy and practices.

A study conducted by the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies and the African American Policy Forum showed black girls are suspended six times more often than their white counterparts.

Black girls are given out-of-school suspensions at higher rates than girls of every race. Pennsylvania is one of 11 states that report suspension gaps between black and white students, both boys and girls, that are higher than the national average. Thirteen percent of black girls are suspended, while the number reaches no higher than seven percent of girls of any other race, according the the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Women’s Law Center released a report, revealing black girls made up 31 percent of girls referred to law enforcement and about 43 percent of girls who had a school-related arrest. Nine percent of black girls with disabilities receive out-of-school suspensions, compared with 6 percent of white girls with disabilities.

Many national and local organizations have become aware of this issue and are attempting to remedy it. The African American Policy Forum has held a week-long social media campaign, called #HerDreamDeferred, for two years.

The first day of the campaign was themed #BlackGirlsMatter: Countering Criminalization In and Out of School. Kimberlé Crenshaw, the co-founder and executive director of the organization, hosted a webinar with other experts on the topic — including Morris.

Another organization is local: Gwen’s Girls. The organization has three locations in the Pittsburgh area– the North Side, Clairton and Penn Hills– and has been serving girls since 2002.

Executive director, Kathi Elliott says that their program stresses the importance of education to their girls.

“That’s truly where girls can be empowered,” Elliot says.

She also says that she feels the schools unintentionally harm girls by having a lack of resources, so students specific needs “go unmet.” Currently, Gwen’s Girls is seeking funding to begin a program that will combat the issue over suspension. She says this initiative is “something she hasn’t told many people about.”

It is called Alternative to Suspension, and the goal of the program is to meet the social and educational needs of student during their suspensions from schools. Instead of sitting home all day, girls would be able to complete classwork and address the reasons for their suspension. The program would be piloted from the organization Penn Hills location.

Tia Torres, a current youth organizer and former student of TeenBloc, a local organization that focuses on student-leadership and advocacy for and by black and brown youth, outlines the most pressing ways black girls are being pushed out.

“One of the main struggles is representation,” Torres says, referring to classroom curriculum and the people teaching it. Students are more likely to connect with and feel driven to do their work if they see themselves reflected in it.

Torres says, “Our girls can be pushed out at any moment just for being themselves…for being loud or being angry when they’re angry or sitting down with an afro or their twistout on fleek.”

She points to low expectations of black girls as another massive issue in schools that can affect them long-term, especially if they pursue higher education. She explains how teachers may “pass” students along because they “don’t want to deal with them again” or give them higher grades than they deserve, leaving them unprepared and with an inaccurate perception of their skills.

Kelis Campbell, a 16-year-old Pittsburgh Obama student, recalls bad memories from her middle school years. She said her teacher found her talking– after she quickly completed worksheets she felt were below her skill level– to be disruptive, so her desk was moved to a back corner of the room. For half of the school year.

She was forced to remain there and complete her worksheets alone as punishment for speaking. This occurred in both 7th and 8th grade.

TeenBloc’s Torres says she has “seen the disparities,” even back when she was in high school.

“I would see students being pushed out and assume they were bad kids, that somehow it was the child’s fault.”

Now, social activists and academics alike are realizing that this is not the case, and finding solutions to combat this issue.

Some ways listed in the few books and studies done on this subject are ending zero-tolerance policies in school, ending exclusionary policies– such as out of school suspensions and alternative schools– training educators to recognize signs of abuse, and reducing the presence of law enforcement in schools. Morris also calls for schools to invite students to “co-construct their environment” by listening to their voices when writing policy and funding more research on this topic.

“Education, particularly formal education, is a primary avenue for accessing greater opportunity,” Morris says in her book. “Those who are pushed to the margins are often rendered too powerless to manage a clear vision of what a truly inclusive learning environment even looks like, let alone how they might participate in ways that support their well-being as learners, as Black girls, and as negotiators of their own destiny.”

Pittsburgh Residents Weigh in on 2016 Election

By Ahmari Anthony| Urban Agenda

With catchphrases like “Make America Great Again” and “America is Already Great” being shouted back and forth by citizens, elected officials and candidates, the current state of the country — and the future — is clearly unsure.

Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes, tied for the fourth most in the U.S. with Illinois, making the state key in deciding the outcome of the November presidential election, experts agree. The historic election is less than 100 days away.

Patrick Riley, a 44-year-old New Kensington resident, observes this uncertainty, especially within the political parties.

Man 2

“It seems like people on both sides seem so angry with each other, more than ever … the supporters really hate the other candidate … and I can remember presidential elections all the way back to Jimmy Carter,” he said.Salena Zito, a political columnist for the Tribune-Review, agreed, referring to the election in Pennsylvania multiple times as “the great unknown.”

Pennsylvania has voted Democrat in nine of the 13 latest presidential elections: 1964, 1968, 1976 and 1992 through 2012, according to archives.gov. Despite the state’s six consecutive Democratic votes in presidential elections, almost anywhere from 66 to 83 percent of the counties vote Republican.

According to statistics, the game changer could be the urban centers. The three most populous counties — Philadelphia, Allegheny and Montgomery — have voted blue in all of these

The populations of these counties add up to about 3.5 million, about 70 percent of voters in the state. About 5 million Pennsylvanians vote each year.

But while this, at first glance, might seem like an automatic victory for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, that is not exactly the case, Zito said.

“Pennsylvania has become 0.4 percent more Republican with each presidential election,” she said.

For example, Democrat Bill Clinton won 28 counties in 1996, while Obama won 10 in 2012.

This year in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton won 37 out of the 67 counties and 55.6 percent of the popular vote. Donald Trump won all 67 counties and
6.7 percent of the popular vote in the Republican primary. Clinton had a strong candidate running against her, Bernie Sanders, while Trump had several opponents, but none with a large following.

Zito says she observed a lot of disunity at the Democratic National Convention, as well as populism.

“Populism is not ideology, but energy,” and this energy is 10 years in the making, she says.

She explains that essentially populism is a discontentment with Washington among the American people. One way to recognize this displeasure is through “wave election cycles,” in which the control of the government is passed back and forth between the two main parties each election.

According to Zito, however, a large factor that could s
cure a Democratic win in Pennsylvania is the black vote, because 94 percent of the black community historically votes for Democrats. She says that the black population in Pennsylvania is not large when compared to other states, but it is large enough to tilt the results of an election within the state.

The Black Political Empowerment Project, an organization whose mission is to have black people vote in every election, has plans to draw out these voters, including placing placards at Port Authority of Allegheny County bus stops on predominantly black routes with the slogan, “Our future is at stake.”

Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of B-PEP, emphasizes the importance of black people’s participation in every election, not just presidential ones.

“We need the political system to be our partner,” Stevens said.

To jumpstart this partnership, B-PEP will reach out to community members through churches and so-called “super centers” — such as the Kingsley Center in Larimer, the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in the North Side, the Hill House Association in the Hill District and the Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg — to distribute voter registration forms and encourage pastors to get their congregations to vote. B-PEP also will be re-implementing its “Roll to the Polls” program in November, which offers free transportation t
o the polls to people in predominantly black neighborhoods.

But Dave Majernik, vice chair of the Allegheny County Republican Committee, maintains hope for the presidential election.

Trump’s appeal to blue-collar workers, law enforcement and those in manufacturing jobs makes Majernik confident that he has a good chance of winning.

“Hillary doesn’t care about the common people,” Majernik says.

Majernik goes on to say that the way Trump is popularly portrayed as a “smokescreen by the Hillary campaign” because “Hillary Clinton doesn’t have good issues to run on.”

While the Democratic Party creates “scarcity and poverty,” his party stands for “the free market, freedom, getting ahead and opportunity,” he said.

Man 1Zito agrees that this year may result in a Republican win in Pennsylvania. She likens the presidential elections in Pennsylvania to Lucy van Pelt and Charlie Brown playing football. The Republican Party is Charlie Brown, winding up to kick, while the Democratic Party is Lucy, always pulling the ball back at the last moment, she says.

“But this year might be the year, if any, for an opportunity,” Zito says.

Vice chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, Austin Davis, feels his party will be successful this year. He says the party has been unified since the end of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and believes this is because there is “a lot at stake” in this election.

Davis has high hopes for Katie McGinty in the Senate race. He says her Allegheny County popularity was low in the primaries because of a local mayor also in the race — John Fetterman of Braddock. But once voters “get to know her plan and vision,” and examine Sen. Pat Toomey’s record, she will win them over, he predicts.

He is somewhat concerned about Trump’s appeal to the white working class, which is a large demographic in Pennsylvania. However, he points to Clinton’s record in the Senate making jobs, especially manufacturing jobs and coal jobs, to show how she is capable of working to benefit Pennsylvanians.

Ozell Hayes, a traveler registered to vote in Detroit but visiting Pittsburgh for three or four months, says Clinton appeals to him not only because of her stance on the issues, but also because of her experience.

“I trust her,” Ozell says firmly.

Sam Gantt III, born in Jacksonville but a Pittsburgh resident for more than 50 years, has supported Clinton, even prior to the primaries. He self-identifies as a Democrat and says that fact will affect his voting in the other elections this November.

“We need to get that Senate and that House,” Gantt says. He says he will be voting for the Democratic candidate for the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat.

Others weren’t as sure. Many were aware of the Senate race, but all except for Robert Dent, a 53-year-old Philadelphia resident visiting Pittsburgh, did not have a favorite.

“I know that Toomey has to go,” Dent says.

Dent considers local elections to be crucial.

There are several other public office positions up for grabs this November, including state attorney general, 25 out of 50 state senatorial district seats, more than 100 state legislative district seats, 18 state congressional districts and the all-important U.S. Senate seat.

“They’re very important because they’re where politicians get their start. … Get involved … Think locally, act locally,” Dent says.

Ryan Repinski, a 40-year-old Wexford resident, agrees.

“Most people forget they’re the most important,” Repinski says.

Embracing The Reality Of Transracial Adoption

By Taylor Szczepaniuk | Urban Agenda

I will never be able to thank my parents enough for loving me unconditionally, for making me love my home, and for accepting me for who I am.

I am a black, 17-year-old girl who was adopted by loving white parents when I was a baby.

Many people don’t undeTaylorrstand the term “transracial adoption.” Transracial adoption is taking a child into your home that is a different race than the adoptive parents.

In 1998, an estimated 15 percent of 36,000 adoptions were transracial or transcultural, according to adoption.com. But that number is going up.

Jacqueline Wilson, chief executive officer of Three Rivers Adoption Council, Downtown, said she advises adults adopting a child of a different race to recognize and embrace their child’s culture.
She tells them to find ways to respect other cultures and races. This looks different for every family, she said, but it’s important to make their child feel comfortable

Wilson said she did a study a couple of years ago, and she talked to black foster children about the possibility of being adopted by parents of a difference race.

Wilson said that the children had a few things that would make that sound better to them. For example, the children told Wilson that they would want to go to a racially mixed, or a culturally diverse church.

Wilson also said that it’s good for both the parents and the children to be open-minded about cultural differences between the kids and the parents.

Carly, 20, a black woman who was adopted by a white family as a child, had a lot to say about that.

“Honestly, I think that there is nothing wrong with transracial adoptions,” she said. “It might be a little confusing while we are growing up, but it just goes to show that skin color isn’t necessarily important.”

More transracial adoptions could help decrease racial tensions, she said.

“Yes I do think it would help. It might get people to see that it’s not about the outside but the inside,” she said.

I know what she means. Some people take adoption to be a joke. When I was younger, kids would always make fun of me and judge me for being different.

Many kids have told me that I was given up for adoption because “my real family didn’t want me.”

I’d always blame my adoptive parents. I never thought people outside my family knew anything about adoption.

For me, at times, it felt like it was the end of the world. I didn’t know very many other people going through what I was going through.

I talked to Wilson about my personal experience of being adopted. I told her that my adoption was also transracial.

My own adoption taught me a lot about who I was, to love myself no matter what other people thought.

It taught me that not everyone is educated, and that I was special, not weird. After meeting a couple of other people who were adopted, I realized that I was lucky.

I hope that all kids who are transracially adopted will accept being different. I hope that they will embrace the difference in culture instead of running from it.

Activists Work To Improve Acceptance Of The Black LGBT Community

By Monet’ Jones | Urban Agenda

Pittsburgh artist Vanessa German said she lives in a Pittsburgh neighborhood where people are accepting of each other’s lifestyles.

“There are a couple gay bars, gays that are couples, and some are couples that actually have kids,” said German, 40, who is gay.

While German lives in a neighborhood where many people are supportive, some other black Pittsburgh residents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender say that they don’t find support. A study published in 2013 suggests that black men in particular may struggle to find acceptance when they “come out.” Black men are often called upon to be “hypermasculine,” said Michael LaSala, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. When they don’t fit that stereotype, the 2013 study found, they often develop a sense of alienation.

Dalen Hooks, 26, a local advocate for gay and lesbian youth, said he’d like to see more programs that support gay black youth in the region. People need more than just a place to stay – they seek a network of people who understand the challenges of being black and gay.

“There should be more programs for the LGBT community, but there’s not enough caring and support,” he said.

Hooks said he meets many young people whose parents have kicked them out of the house – because they’re gay.

Many homeless youth in Pittsburgh identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, said Christine Bryan, marketing and development director for the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, a nonprofit group that has programs to help improve quality of life for the LGBT community.

“The most frequently-cited factor was rejection by family members based on sexual identity,” Bryan said.

Nationwide, there are more than 9 million LGBT adults nationwide, according to 2015 figures from the Williams Institute, a think tank at University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

German, for her part, said she was lucky in that her family was accepting when she told them she was gay. She said her mother responded by saying, “‘Vanessa, there are some things a man can’t give that a woman actually can give, so if you’re happy, I’m happy.”’

Hooks said he also had family support.

“My mother was a preacher, so when I came out to her, it took some time for her to adjust,” he said. “It took sometime for my father to adjust, but my brother was very supportive. After coming out to my brother, our relationship actually became closer.”

There are few studies that focus only on black people who identify as LGBT, however a Pew Research Center survey of 1,100 LGBT adults shows that most think society’s attitudes have become more accepting of them in the past decade.

The survey also showed that most – 92 percent – said they thought society’s attitudes would shift to become more accepting in the future.