This blog post is a part of the YTH Staff Interview Series, where we feature an in-depth Q&A with each member of our staff. This time around we’re talking to Jay Lykens, YTH’s Program Coordinator. He has an extensive background working as an advocate for LGBTQ sexual health and rights, from piloting research at San Francisco State University’s Project AFFIRM, to working as a research assistant Project SHARe, and empowering young LGBTQ folks at the Queer Youth Task Force. In his role at YTH, Jay works as a researcher on a number of programs and as a coordinator for the annual YTH Live conference. I spoke to Jay about his passion for trans and genderqueer youth health, his work in social justice, and his programming project interests at YTH.
ERIN: You say that you’re interested in reducing health disparities for trans and genderqueer youth in your website bio. What do you think is the greatest health disparity affecting queer and trans young people and what tech innovations do you think could be used to solve this?
JAY: I think one of the biggest things that’s stopping the advancement of trans and genderqueer health is the lack of resources and community connection happening across the US. The work that’s being done is pretty isolated, so when we look at places like the San Francisco Bay Area, we might see that we’re making advances. But elsewhere, like in the Southern States and the middle of the US, we might not see those advances. And I think some of the biggest health disparities affecting trans and genderqueer youth in particular is, first and foremost, the lack of affordable living and insurance coverage. These problems stem from many things, especially transphobia and family rejection, and they’re being experienced at multiple levels. That makes it hard to pinpoint just one biggest health disparity, because that transphobia affects nearly every aspect of life. And the lack of housing and insurance coverage leads to a high rate of homelessness among trans and genderqueer youth, which can in turn exacerbate high rates of health problems. And that’s before we even start thinking about access to hormones and surgery! If you can’t access insurance to begin with, it makes it hard to stay healthy. As far as technology goes, I’m really hoping that one day a peer network of trans and genderqueer youth can make its way to a national scale, whether that be a social media platform or a mobile app campaign that can connect all gender diverse youth to a mainstreamed resource locator.
ERIN: You’ve graduated from San Francisco State University’s Sexuality Studies Program. Congratulations! And how are you able to apply what you’ve learned academically to your work at YTH?
JAY: Thanks! It was a long time coming! I think what I’ve learned in my graduate program is just how vital research is with the populations I care about, and how best to do that research. The LGBTQ community, especially the trans and genderqueer community, gets so very little funding and attention. This has huge ramifications for building adequate health interventions. The little we do know about my LGBTQ community focuses largely on issues that affect cisgender gay men, and fails to bolster the trans and genderqueer community. And even when precious resources are given to the trans and genderqueer community, research often fails to include them in the process. What we end up creating is inadequate programs and culturally incompetent services that can do more harm than good. If we’re not including trans and genderqueer voices at the table, the project is going to fail.
ERIN: You’re also a huge supporter of LGBTQ rights—just some points to highlight on your resume include working at the Gay/Straight Alliance Summit and conducting original research on LGBT media representation. What led you to develop this particular social justice passion?
I think growing up as a queer gay man in the South, I didn’t see much of myself reflected in society. I think for most young people it’s extremely crucial to see yourself reflected in some way, because this can make it easier to define yourself, connect to similar people, and create your own community. As I got older, I began to notice that people like me are out there, but they’re quickly swept under the rug for various reasons, often due to homophobia and transphobia. And that leads to all sorts of feelings of isolation, depression, and loneliness. You start questioning your place in the world, and whether or not you really fit in anywhere. By focusing my work on LGBTQ rights, I can hopefully make my community more visible to the world– but more importantly, to other people like me. That peer connection is something I value so deeply, and by focusing on those rights and media representation, hopefully I can work towards that goal.
ERIN: What are you most looking forward to in your work at YTH this year?
JAY: I’m really looking forward to my work on our new program, TransConnect. It’s a mobile app that will bring together all the Bay Area resources for transgender-spectrum youth. I’m really hopeful that something like this will help service uptake. Even though we’re in the Bay Area and it’s generally considered the “mecca” of LGBTQ rights, it’s still lacking in some ways, and providers aren’t communicating to each other. With TransConnect, I’m hoping services and providers will get better at that. In a few days we are having our first Community Advisory Board kickoff for TransConnect, which will include voices from many people who identify along the transgender-spectrum. I’m going to make sure that TransConnect is inclusive and representative, and that means hearing as many community voices as we can. We must include many gender identities, racial identities, and sexualities if we want to make something that will help folks with their health.
ERIN: Since you’ve received so many scholastic awards in addition to your Master’s degree, what are some of your future professional goals? How is working at YTH helping you reach them?
JAY: I definitely want to strive for a PhD in social psychology in the future, but definitely not near future. Sometime after that, I like to imagine myself as a professor of psychology, surrounded by books and making a living by developing research programs! But for now, I love where I’m at professionally and definitely want to build up my research and program skills. YTH has been a huge stepping stone toward my career goals, and has really given me the tools to go after initiatives I care about. They’ve definitely paved the way for me by giving me leadership opportunities and allowing me to use my expertise in our research programs. Annnd, another professional goal of mine is to write and publish a fantasy novel, so here’s hoping to that, too!
ERIN: If you had to summarize your work at YTH in three words, which would you choose?
JAY: Queering it up! :)
To learn more about Jay and his work, read his full bio here.
Want to join Jay at YTH Live 2017? Register today and receive a $100 discount, as a part of our Early Bird Registration. We only have a limited number of tickets available at this special price, so act now to claim this discount.
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