News & Announcements

Collaboration Reduces Health Disparities Experienced by Guam’s LGBT Youth

Posted: October 03, 2018

“Guam is a very open, loving community,” says Linda Flynn, Supervisor of Prevention and Training at the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, a SAMHSA Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant recipient. “That is the Chamorro nature—to welcome everybody, to make them feel comfortable, and to address any needs they might have.”

Despite the island’s welcoming culture, members of Guam’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community often struggle for acceptance. “Historically, the LGBT community on Guam has been faced with issues of family rejection and discrimination,” says Tim de La Cruz, Executive Director of Guam’s Alternative Lifestyles Association (GALA), a community-based organization dedicated to strengthening the quality of life for LGBT individuals and their families.

People who identify as LGBT are particularly at risk for substance use and mental health issues.1 Data from a GALA health survey revealed that nearly half of LGBT respondents over age 18 have smoked cigarettes; more than half drank alcohol; 22 percent misused prescription drugs; 24 percent had used crystal meth; 37 percent had been bullied; and 25 percent told someone they were going to commit suicide. “These data tell a story of need—and of pain,” de La Cruz says. “And it shows how disproportionate the behavioral health needs of the LGBT community are on Guam.”

To address these disparities, the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center partnered with GALA to provide a range of behavioral health services to the LGBTQI* community. With additional support from the island’s Department of Education Student Support Services, GALA brings health awareness, substance use prevention, and youth empowerment programs to schools and community centers. Their programming includes Storytelling for Empowerment, an evidence-based substance abuse and suicide prevention curriculum; a health and wellness program; and a Summer Power Camp that includes arts and crafts, physical fitness, and substance abuse and suicide prevention workshops for school-aged youth.

Offering services to all youth in need—not just LGBTQI youth—is at the heart of GALA’s approach. Their slogan—Navigating Life Together—informs all of the work they do. “We don't just work with the individual LGBT person but with their family, their friends, their neighborhood, and the villages that they live in,” de La Cruz says. Empowering youth is at the core of all programming, educating youth on making healthy choices and feeling confident to “live proud” and be themselves.

GALA relies on strong collaboration with a wide range of schools and community partners—including the University of Guam Cooperative Extension Service, the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Guam, victim advocacy services, village mayors, the military, and the Catholic Church—to identify youth who could benefit from their services. These partners also provide space and other supports for GALA to deliver their programming.

But GALA’s collaborative partners do more than host their youth prevention programs. They also provide inroads to the greater Guam community—opening the door to meaningful discussions about substance use, gender identity issues and sexual expression, and the unique risks LGBTQI youth face. “These discussions bring these issues out of the shadows,” says de La Cruz, “and lay the foundation for greater understanding and acceptance.”


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