Dr. Vincent “Vinnie” Pompei is a pioneer in creating safer environments in schools for LGBTQ youth. For National Mental Health Month, at Mooditude, we want to elevate his trailblazing voice. Vinnie is the Director of the Youth Well-Being Program at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and advocates for inclusive policies in youth organizations to build an accepting and supportive environment for LGBTQ youth in their formative years. His powerful advocacy work was recognized by the Obama Administration and he was invited to the White House to take part in the first Anti-Bullying Conference.
We were thrilled to interview Vinnie about his work at the HRC and his mission to educate youth facing professionals on how to create LGBTQ inclusive environments. Vinnie shares his candid experiences growing up as a closeted LGBTQ gender nonconforming child and how these painful experiences propelled him to become a thought leader in the field of youth advocacy. Continue reading to hear his personal stories on how he’s revamping a discriminatory youth culture.
Mooditude: You have an impressive background in advocating for LGBTQ mental health in school settings. How did you bring your vision and background to further the HRC’s mission of equality and freedom?
Vinnie: Growing up as a closeted LGBTQ gender nonconforming child resulted in daily encounters of homophobic and gender-based harassment, bullying, and violence. Feelings of safety were rare as a child, which took a significant toll on my overall well-being. Moving away for college seemed to be my only option to escape unhealthy circumstances. I soon met other LGBTQ people and began to create a support system that helped me to accept my authentic self and overcome many symptoms associated with childhood trauma. That influenced my decision to become a teacher and school counselor so that I could become the advocate that I always wished I had during my K-12 education.
But creating a safe and affirming school environment that was inclusive of LGBTQ students resulted in fierce pushback from school leadership, other staff, and a group of local parents and guardians. I was even harassed by a former colleague and my school administrator who wanted to “pray my gay away” and accused me of pushing a “gay agenda”. This only fueled my commitment to ensure that all students had an equitable opportunity to learn and thrive resulting in the superintendent asking me to train all district staff on LGBTQ inclusion and work with leadership to update policies and practices.
After successful implementation, I began receiving invitations from neighboring districts to help them around LGBTQ inclusion, including several County Offices of Education and even statewide educator associations. Soon after, I was recognized by the National Education Association as a Classroom Superhero and invited by the Obama Administration to the White House for their first-ever Anti-Bullying Conference. I was also elected as the President of the California Association of School Counselors where I used my voice to advocate for more school counselors and mental health support for K-12 students in the state.
By 2013, the Human Rights Campaign was searching for someone to create and oversee a new program to support LGBTQ youth. I was encouraged to apply and have been working as the Director of HRC’s Youth Well-Being Program for the past eight years. The national program works to promote safety, inclusion, and well-being for LGBTQ through training, technical assistance, and resource development. The program even launched an annual national conference called Time to THRIVE, which attracts K-12 educators, mental health professionals, and other youth-serving professionals to empower them to become stronger advocates in their communities.
Mooditude: LGBTQ youth are disproportionately affected by mental health issues. Why is that and how is the Youth Well-Being Program at HRC using its voice to change this?
Vinnie: Year after year, research continues to show significant disparities related to the safety and well-being of LGBTQ youth compared to their non-LGBTQ peers. These disparities are not because these young people are LGBTQ. It is because of the pervasive and consistent bias, stigma, and misinformation about LGBTQ people that still exists in the U.S. and the lack of professional development opportunities for youth-serving professionals on how to create safe and affirming environments for LGBTQ youth.
As a former K-12 educator who holds two graduate degrees and a Doctorate in Education from various Universities in California, I received no preparation on LGBTQ identities or LGBTQ inclusion. Youth-serving professionals deserve and are hungry for comprehensive training to build cultural humility and be provided with evidence-based practices that create safe and affirming environments for LGBTQ young people. Research shows that when LGBTQ youth feel safe and affirmed in school, at home, and in the greater community, they have an equitable opportunity to thrive.
HRC’s Youth Well-Being Program has created numerous national partnerships with professional associations and organizations that work closely with K-12 educators, mental health providers and other youth-serving professionals. We collaborate with these organizations to create resources, present training for their members, and provide technical assistance around the creation of LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices.
In addition to HRC’s annual Time to THRIVE conference, HRC’s Youth Well-Being Program has been invited to speak at other national conventions on LGBTQ inclusion. Most recently, I had the opportunity to speak at the annual conferences for the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Nurses, the School Social Worker Association of America, and even the National Association of Secondary School Principals. As a result, several thousands of youth-serving professionals are getting the comprehensive training that they otherwise wouldn’t receive. Once trained, youth-serving professionals can do the preventative work to address anti-LGBTQ bias and stigma, and to create safe, welcoming, and affirming environments for LGBTQ youth.
Mooditude: For LGBTQ youth struggling to find acceptance and support, what are the first steps they should take?
Vinnie: First, I’d like them to know they are of value, important, and loved! They may currently feel a lack of acceptance and support, but there are millions of people around the world who are willing and ready to support them. HRC has developed several “Coming Out” guides that may be helpful, but we’ve also compiled a list of virtual and direct resources specifically designed for LGBTQ youth in need of support. If a young LGBTQ person is in crisis, I’d highly recommend they call The Trevor Project’s confidential lifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or click here to speak with a trained counselor without judgment. The Trevor Project is the only 24/7 lifeline designed specifically for LGBTQ youth.
Mooditude: For mental health professionals who want to better serve LGBTQ youth what resources do you recommend them turning to?
Vinnie: There are numerous resources for youth-serving professionals wishing to learn more about supporting LGBTQ youth. Many of the national professional associations connected to K-12 education or those professionals who work closely with youth have position statements or resolutions offering guidance around creating safe and inclusive environments for LGBTQ youth. HRC recently compiled several of these position statements and resolutions here. Additionally, HRC has developed many resources to guide youth-serving professionals. Most recently, HRC worked with our nearly 30 national professional associations and organizations to develop a “Checklist” for creating safe and affirming environments for LGBTQ youth. This evidence-based guide also includes a “safe space” poster that can be displayed in a classroom or office to show LGBTQ youth that you are an affirming adult they can turn to for support.
Mooditude: How can our community support the work that you do at the HRC?
Vinnie: There are many ways for folks to support or get involved with HRC. If you want to simply stay engaged or informed, you can sign up to receive HRC’s monthly newsletter designed for youth-serving professionals. If you are interested in volunteering with HRC or joining one of our 30 local HRC Steering Committees, click here. If you want to become a member of HRC, make a donation or purchase some HRC swag, click here. As you work to create safe and affirming environments for LGBTQ youth, know that you are supporting the mission of HRC and we sincerely thank you!
Mooditude wants to thank Dr. Vincent Pompei and the Human Rights Campaign for lending their voices to support LGBTQ youth mental health awareness during National Mental Health Month. Please consider supporting their important mission. If you are a youth serving professional, utilize the HRC’s resources to create an environment where all youth are welcomed and thrive.