Serving and Supporting Transgender Youth at One Hope United

When the opportunity to serve transgender youth through One Hope United’s Centralia residential programs arose, director Melissa Webster thought to herself, “We can do that!”

According to the National Center for Child Welfare Excellence, 57 percent of trans youth report experiencing family rejection, and trans youth are disproportionately represented in child welfare settings. If they feel unsafe in their placement, they may choose instead to live on the streets—20 percent of homeless youth identify as trans.

Melissa knew that her facilities, which include private rooms and locking doors, as well as her team’s approach of doing what’s best for the youth in their care, would make One Hope United a good fit for trans youth. “There’s no judgment here,” she said. “Wherever you are today, we’re going to meet you there.”

That’s what the team tried to convey to Taylor*, 15, when he visited the campus to consider living there (he was assigned a female sex at birth and now identifies as male). Home supervisor Greg Phoenix began by asking Taylor what he needed from the program. “He really just wanted our support and to be accepted for who he was, and our willingness to do that was probably the largest deciding factor for him choosing us,” Greg said.

Taylor’s arrival on campus took some adjustment for some of the other boys, but Greg says that period was short and that Taylor now gets along with all the boys in the home. “They see him as one of their own. They watch TV together, play games together—he’s fully accepted.”

The staff at One Hope United have supported Taylor by helping him when he wanted to travel to the pride parade in Springfield, Illinois, and to an LGBTQ support group in St. Louis, Missouri. Taylor also holds a leadership role on DCFS’s youth advisory board and is working with two other LGBTQ youth on campus to start a support group at One Hope United. Now, Taylor is poised to transition to foster care.

Working with Taylor, one of the first openly trans youth at One Hope United, has been “enriching,” says therapist Howard Coon.

“He knew from a very young age that he wasn’t born in the right body. He can say, ‘I know this is who I want to be,’ and it’s nice to see youth who can put that kind of passion into their treatment, their personal lives, and their goals,” Howard said. “We hope to help Taylor achieve some of those things before he moves on to his next placement.”

This story is from our 2017 Annual Report.

*Name has been changed.