As told to Liz Welch
Dr. Kenneth D. Allen. Photo credit: Siobhan O’Brien Photography.
“I was on my way to get coffee one morning in Arlington, Va., where I lived with Scott, my partner of 21 years, when I saw a teenage boy walking with a suitcase. I asked, ‘Where are you going?’ And he replied, ‘To a homeless shelter.’ His parents had kicked him out of his home in Georgia—because he was gay.
“He was not the first youth I have encountered who left home as a result of sexual orientation: For more than a decade I have worked on adolescent and pediatric issues in San Diego, Portland, and Washington, D.C., where I met countless kids who have been bullied, ostracized, oppressed, and forced into homelessness as a result of their sexual orientation. In fact, one study found that up to 35% of all homeless youth are sexual minorities.
“Compelled to find a way to help this population, I started looking for psychological studies on developmental theory and resilience among adolescents and found thousands of studies, but when I narrowed my search to ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ or ‘transgender,’ all sexual minorities, the research was almost nonexistent. I was astounded—much has been written about the higher incidents of suicide, depression, anxiety, and high-risk behavior of this group, such as drug and alcohol abuse, but relatively few studies have been done that show us how to actually help them cope. I wanted to change that.
“I decided to pursue a PhD in Psychology to focus on evidence-based studies that look at the developmental experience of sexual minorities. I chose Walden for its commitment to social change. It was a great choice: I was so inspired by the support I received from my professors that I decided to create The National GLBTQ Youth Foundation while pursuing my degree at Walden.
“The foundation focuses on securing funding to increase the amount of psychological literature on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (GLBTQ) youth. We need a road map to help these kids, and scientific studies are the start. Since its inception in 2010, three studies have been funded, including one I completed while studying at Walden that looked at the lack of social programs for this population throughout the U.S.
“Available research reveals that empathic peer support is critical to helping this group navigate adolescence—so it was distressing to find that 13 states have no such programs at all. This means if you’re a gay teenager and live in Georgia, like the young man I met that morning, there are no support groups for you to turn to in your community. That study, published in a peer-reviewed psychology journal, will raise awareness—and hopefully lead to an increase in the number of peer support programs for sexual minorities.
“During the first year of operations, the foundation was chosen as one of GlobalGiving’s charities. These funds will fuel more studies, more awareness and more help for GLBTQ youth. That is my mission and thanks to Walden, it’s possible.”
Tell us about your Mission Possible at myWaldenImpact@waldenu.edu.