BURLINGTON -- Things are looking up for Outright Vermont: Last week, the formerly beleaguered queer youth advocacy organization won a $100,000 grant. The three-year award, from California-based Liberty Hill Foundations Queer Youth Fund, is the largest in Outright's 17-year history.
Co-Executive Director Kate Jerman says Outright will use the money to hire a full-time education and outreach coordinator to conduct anti-bullying and anti-harassment workshops for Vermont organizations and schools; for the past two years, that's been a part of her job. A recent grant from the Vermont Children's Trust Fund will also enable Outright to fund a health and wellness coordinator, and the organization is adding an AmeriCorps worker this summer as well. "It's exciting that we're going to be able to hire all these people," says Jerman. "It's going to mean that we're capable of so much more."
Jerman reports that demand for Outright's presentations continues to increase, despite the controversy that erupted in Williston this spring. Administrators at the Williston Central School cancelled an Outright anti-bullying talk after some parents complained, then reinstated the presentation after other parents and community members protested. Carol Lee, a Liberty Hill program associate, says the incident didn't influence Outright's grant application; in fact, Jerman notes, it shows that the organization's services are still very much needed.
The money comes at a pivotal time for the organization. A budget crunch almost shuttered Outright at the end of 2005. Government grants to queer youth groups are drying up, and private funders are shifting their focus to fighting for same-sex marriage.
"It's happening all over the country," says Jerman, noting that queer youth groups in Portland, Maine, Austin, Texas and Northhampton, Massachusetts, were recently forced to close. "We're really fortunate that didn't happen to us."
Jerman and Co-E.D. Lluvia Mulvaney-Stanak put out a desperate call for help last October, and their supporters rallied. Donations increased, and more volunteers stepped forward to join Outright's board of directors, which now has 12 members. Last month, this forward momentum allowed Outright to move into a larger office space at the McClure MultiGenerational Center.
Jerman won't be around to enjoy Outright's progress much longer -- the 26-year-old Essex Junction native is scheduled to depart Vermont next month to begin work on a Master's in public health at Columbia University. She says it will be hard to leave, but getting the Queer Youth Fund grant makes her feel the organization is secure. Declares Jerman, "I don't think we've ever been in a better place."