How OHU Creates a Safe and Inclusive Environment for LGBTQIA+ Individuals

At OHU, we are dedicated to creating a nurturing and accepting environment for all individuals who access our services. As we proudly celebrate Pride Month, we had the privilege of speaking with Emily Owen, the Director of Programs for the Residential and Group Homes in Centralia, IL. With 17 years of experience at OHU, Emily provided valuable insights into how our organization actively supports and cares for LGBTQIA+ staff and the children in our care.

OHU is dedicated to actively promoting and supporting inclusivity and diversity, encompassing a wide range of individuals, including LGBTQIA+ youth. As one of the first programs in Illinois to accept transgender youth, we take pride in our progressive approach.

“Our organization serves clients from diverse backgrounds, providing them with every opportunity to express themselves freely,” Emily said. “For transgender youth, we prioritize their well-being and identity by placing them in homes where they feel at ease, respecting their self-identified gender. We firmly believe in client choice and actively support preferred names and pronouns, ensuring that everyone feels validated and respected within our environment.”

To create this safe environment, OHU has implemented various policies, procedures, and initiatives. We prioritize ongoing education and training for our staff, equipping them with the necessary knowledge and understanding to support LGBTQIA+ youth effectively. As part of our commitment to celebration and recognition, we engage our clients in activities that honor Pride Month and validate their identities. Additionally, we offer specialty groups and a youth advisory board where LGBTQIA+ youth can find support and a sense of belonging.

Residential Living Room

“We strive to educate our staff members and empower them to support our youth, regardless of their personal beliefs, always meeting them where they are,” Emily said. Addressing potential biases or discriminatory behaviors is of utmost importance to us. During staff orientation, we emphasize our Red Flag Reporting System and Open Door Policy. We encourage staff members to openly express any concerns they may have, providing a culture of trust and open communication. We also have availability in all of our homes to do anonymous reports for those who may feel uncomfortable reporting in person.

OHU takes pride in the positive impact we have made on the lives of LGBTQIA+ individuals who have accessed our services. We have helped youth connect with essential services during their transition processes, addressing their mental and physical health needs. In cases where families may struggle to accept their child’s pronouns or identities, we provide a safe space for processing emotions and navigating these challenging situations. Through collaboration with therapists and family members, we assist clients in finding understanding and support systems.

Looking to the future, OHU remains committed to enhancing the care, provision, and protection of LGBTQIA+ individuals within our organization. Our dedicated activity team plans events every month that celebrate and support various aspects of our community’s identities. We understand the importance of continued education, maintaining an open mindset, and being willing to learn and adapt. Our organization has presented on a national level in Washington, D.C., and we will continue to support and welcome individuals regardless of their beliefs or preferences. Above all, our ultimate goal is to create a safe and accepting space where all our OHU community feels valued and respected.

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