This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Attic Youth Center, Philadelphia’s only independent LGBTQ youth center, has a message for students: It’s OK to be you.
So says the tagline of a campaign the center launched this summer featuring 100 rainbow-hued posters plastered on SEPTA buses and subway cars and a series of YouTube videos. The videos – entitled "It Gets Better When…" – spotlight the center’s students talking about how bullied youth can improve their lives.
Azeem Hill, a 2011 West Philadelphia High graduate, Philadelphia Student Union member, and visitor to the Attic Youth Center, says he often felt "alone" during high school because of entrenched homophobia. Hill said the campaign will help curtail isolation by connecting LGBTQ students to a citywide web of support.
Hill said the "It’s OK to be you" campaign "makes me feel like I’m a part of something."
"That’s what I want young gay people to take away from this, that there’s a large network of people out there like us, and it’s a supportive network."
Center Director Carrie Jacobs said the initiative reaffirms a sense of community among LGBTQ youth, while raising awareness among straight students.
The District has not been involved with the campaign, Jacobs said. But Ericka Washington, director of the District’s Office of Attendance and Truancy, said the District has a stake in protecting all students, as evidenced by its bullying prevention policy.
"Students understand what bullying is, and they understand that it’s not something that we tolerate," said Washington, noting that schools are now required to post the prevention policy in every classroom.
Students experiencing harassment can call the District’s anti-bullying hotline at 215-400-SAFE.