Pride For Youth (PFY) is an non profit organization located in Deer Park and Bellmore. It was created to enhance the health, wellness and cultural competency of LGBTQ+ youth through education, support services and youth development. Although they were originally called Pride For Youth, they are now serving adults up to the age of 45.
PFY was first established back in 1993 by the Long Island Crisis Center. The Long Island Crisis Center is a 24/7, 365 crisis hotline that allows callers to talk to volunteer counselors for free. In the late 80’s, they started receiving many calls from people in the in the LGBTQ community. At that point, there were no LGBTQ centers on Long Island or in any suburban setting in the country.
“At that time, young LGBTQ kids on Long Island were lugging out to NYC to go to gay bars, clubs or centers. That’s not always a safe thing to do when you’re young,” said Maria Demauro, a licensed social worker, counselor and community mobilization coordinator at Pride For Youth. “Realizing that there was obviously a need here, the Long Island Crisis Center opened up Pride For Youth. PFY originally was just a Friday night party for LGBTQ folks to enjoy. It was subtance-free, which was a big deal for the community. It was ran by counselors and originally just a space for people to feel comfortable being themselves and it was so needed!”
Pride For Youth offers an array of services. This includes mental health counseling, employment mentoring and goal-oriented counseling. They offer PrEP/PEP services. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. This is a medication that prevents HIV infection. PEP is post exposure prophylaxis that can be taken to stop infection after 72 hours of being exposed to the virus.
They’ve created Project Thrive, which is created to link transgender and non-binary community members with gender affirming services. They also help to connect community members with legal services to legally change their name or gender marker. They’ve created several groups to empower members of the LGBTQ community. In 1995, PFY established the first suburban coffeehouse for LGBTQ youth and allies ages 13-20 in the U.S. They have a trans group specifically for trans women called Empower Her. As well as Empower Vida, which is a group for Latinx and Spanish speakers.
“We serve the LGBT community in any way we possibly can,” said Maria Demauro, who has been involved with PFY since she was a college graduate in 2017. “There’s really not that many LGBTQ resources on Long Island, so we really try to do it all.”
Demauro explains how the pandemic has affected their ability to connect with the community and spread the word about their services and how they have to use social media more than ever before.
“It’s really hard during a COVID pandemic,” said Demauro. “In person, I’m physically in schools, I’m physically at organizations. I’m meeting people, but during a pandemic, everything is on social media. We’re always posting on social media about our events. We use Facebook, Instagram and Messenger to reach out to people.”
The Ballroom scene was birthed in New York City by the African-American and Latinx LGBTQ community. It is essentially a large dance party in which attendees can dance, vogue, walk, pose and support one another in numerous drag and performance competition categories. PFY made history by hosting the first ever Kiki Ball on Long Island. It gave young people a space to express their creativity and their pride through vogue, drag and runway right on Long Island.
“We have a big drag show coming up called Pride After Dark, which is completely virtual featuring amazing drag performers!” said Demauro. “I just graduated college and had come out of the closet. I wanted to get involved, but I didn’t know how. After Googling LGBTQ centers on Long Island, I found PFY and volunteered. I feel so passionate about lifting the community and educating that when I’m in this space working I feel more fulfilled than anything else.”
A lot of the LGBTQ+ resources were not accessible before PFY existed according to people who have interacted with and have been part of the organization.
“It’s important for organizations like a PFY to exist because it’s life-saving,” said Demauro. “I remember I would volunteer for the youth program. You would see these young kids come in shy. Within a month they would become the shining light of the room! We’re not doing anything spectacular. We’re just making space for people to feel okay to be themselves and I think that’s so powerful.”