New York City is launching a new, comprehensive work program geared toward the LGBTQ+ community this summer, according to NBC News. 

The program, entitled Unity Works, is a 2.6 million dollar initiative that will provide LGBTQ+ youth who are experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness with equitable job and educational opportunities. In addition, the program will offer access to job training, paid internships and mental health services to young adults aged 16 to 24.  

"A recovery for all of us requires investing in communities too often left behind," Mayor Bill de Blasio
said in a statement. "I'm thrilled to announce the launch of Unity Works and partner with the Ali Forney Center. This program will bring employment and education opportunities to homeless and runaway LGBTQI youth, providing much needed resources after this difficult year." 

In 2017, de Blasio’s wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, launched the New York City Unity Project. That initiative delivered widespread support to LGBTQ+ youth, including the expansion of 24-hour youth drop-in centers to every NYC borough, LGBTQ-affirming mental health training programs and public awareness campaigns across the city.  

“The NYC Unity Project was created to address the discrimination and obstacles to getting an education and employment often experienced by young people who identify as LGBTQI, McCray said. “We want all of our youth to be safe, supported and healthy, and look to their future with hope and excitement. Without some assistance, the tremendous potential of many LGBTQI young people cannot be realized.”

The new program is a derivative of the initial unity project, which McCray says will help lay the foundation for longstanding success within the LGBTQ+ community by providing a minimum of two, intense years of direct services to trainees.

"Unity Works demonstrates the deep commitment of local government to support and empower LGBTQI young people, and the power of partnership,” she said. "This new program marks the first time that any city has taken this particular set of comprehensive steps to provide training, mental health services and social supports that are critical to long-term success and stability for LGBTQI youth." 

In tandem with Unity Works is The Ali Forney Center (AFC), one of the largest organizations that helps combat the homelessness epidemic for LGBTQ+ youth within the United States. Currently, AFC offers programs for outreach, HIV prevention, transitional living services and more 

According to a study conducted by the Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services, (ESC)  LGBTQ+ street youth experience greater levels of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking violence, trauma, HIV infection, mental health issues and substance abuse than their heterosexual counterparts in the homeless youth demographic, AFC reports

“We know that young LGBTQ people are largely homeless because their family rejected them,” Ashe McGovern, Unity Works’ gender-neutral executive director said, NBC News reported. “They may face peer rejection, school rejection, community rejection, so we knew this had to be trauma-informed. It’s not enough to just give people resumé building tips and say ‘good luck.’ This program is a larger support system to help them feel empowered.”

Over the next four years, the program intends to reach 90 participants which will hopefully reimagine the workforce to be more inclusive for young LGBTQ+ individuals. 

“Unity Works will provide critical workforce development and mental health resources to LGBTQI young people, who have faced ever growing obstacles amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” Daniele Baierlein and Jorge Luis Paniagua Valle, Co-Executive Directors of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City said. “This new program demonstrates the power of partnership in helping to ensure that vulnerable communities are not left behind in the city’s recovery from the pandemic, and are given the tools to succeed in their professional endeavors.”  

The program also pledges to combat employment discrimination for LGBTQ+ community members, which was under attack last year when the Trump Administration opposed passage of the Equality Act. In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity because they are types of sex discrimination, the Human Rights Campaign reports.

Unity Works is set to launch July 1 after a year of being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This initiative and trust building reassures our LGBTQ youth that they deserve our unconditional support,” NY Assembly Member Harry Bronson said. “By building trust and breaking down barriers, we will ensure that our LGBTQ homeless youth have equal opportunities and that they are never denied their ability to live as full citizens.”