May 24, 2024

Manatee County denies mental health funding for LGBTQ youth

Manatee County officials voted to block funding for ALSO Youth’s mental health counseling program for LGBTQ children in the Bradenton area. ALSO Youth hosts the Manatee Pride Festival, shown in this March 2023 Bradenton Herald file photo.

Manatee County officials voted to block funding for ALSO Youth’s mental health counseling program for LGBTQ children in the Bradenton area. ALSO Youth hosts the Manatee Pride Festival, shown in this March 2023 Bradenton Herald file photo.

Manatee County officials singled out and denied funding for an LGBTQ+ organization as they approved millions of dollars in funding for other community programs that support local children.

Commissioner Amanda Ballard raised the issue, noting that she did not agree with a recommendation to fund a mental health counseling program for ALSO Youth, which provides resources to LGBTQ+ children in the area. Earlier this year, Ballard also pushed for restricted access to LGBTQ+ content in libraries.

“In speaking with them, I was not convinced that the counseling they are going to provide will not be focused on helping or encouraging children into a gender transition or making them more uncomfortable with their gender situation,” Ballard said. “I just don’t believe it’s an appropriate use of taxpayer funds.”

The board voted to deny $27,500 for ALSO Youth’s mental health counseling program while approving $15 million for more than 50 other local programs. Manatee County officials provided funding for a variety of community services, including mentoring, tutoring and family support programs.

Commissioners also briefly considered denying funding for a pregnancy prevention program at PACE Center for Girls. The board ultimately voted to approve that funding.

According to ALSO Youth’s website, the organization provides free counseling services for youth and their families to “feel comfortable and confident in their own skin.”

Mental health funding denied for LGBTQ+ organization

ALSO Youth provides an average of 70 counseling sessions per month for people between the ages of 10 to 24. Services are focused on addressing depression, anxiety and other mental health issues that stem from bullying, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.

“Our counseling services utilize affirming therapy techniques, meaning during your sessions we strive to focus on the positive aspects of being part of the LGBTQ+ community,” the website says. “This type of therapy will also address the negative influences homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia have in the lives of patients, providing them with the support they need to work through how these influences may affect their daily lives.”

Reached for comment Wednesday morning, Executive Director Becky McDonough said Manatee officials “really missed out” by choosing to exclude the organization’s funding “based on one commissioner’s purposeful misrepresentation of our organization and services.”

“Despite the commissioners’ decision, we will continue to provide these significantly important counseling services with the support of our educated, mindful and sensible community partners and donors,” McDonough said in a statement provided to the Bradenton Herald.

ALSO Youth operates in Manatee and Sarasota counties. The nonprofit also hosts the annual Manatee Pride Festival at the Bradenton Riverwalk.

Speaking with the Herald in June, ALSO Youth’s Board President Mary Tavarozzi said the organization’s advocacy and outreach are important in what has become a “very tough political climate.”

“We are trying to make sure that the youth don’t absorb the hateful rhetoric that they are hearing out there and turn it on themselves,” Tavarozzi said at the time. “We’re trying to combat suicide attempts, self-harm and substance abuse.”

A survey conducted earlier this year by The Trevor Project, a nationwide organization that provides similar resources for LGBTQ+ youth, determined that mental health is a key issue for the community.

“For the fifth consecutive year, these data underscore that anti-LGBTQ victimization contributes to the higher rates of suicide risk reported by LGBTQ young people and that most who want mental health care are unable to get it,” The Trevor Project said.

Tuesday’s funding denial is the latest development in the board’s battle against LGBTQ+ resources. In April, the board said it plans to move forward with new policies at the library that limit children’s access to LGBTQ content. Commissioners also approved a change to expand an advisory board that determines what new content will be added to the library collection.

Concerns over pregnancy prevention program

Commissioner James Satcher, who also voiced support for denying ALSO Youth’s funding, also pushed for a denial of funding for the PACE Center for Girls’ pregnancy prevention program. He suggested that the organization could partner with Planned Parenthood, an organization he clashed with in 2021 when he attempted to ban abortion clinics in Manatee County.

“I can’t tell you what to do with your organization, but representing my taxpayers, I will never be able to vote for taxpayer money to go to any services along those lines,” Satcher said.

In response, PACE Executive Director Amy Wick Mavis told the board that the school cut ties with Planned Parenthood “because of changes in the Legislature.”

“Our job is pregnancy prevention. Every year that we keep a girl from becoming a teenage mother, they’re one step closer to self-sufficiency,” Wick Mavis said.

Despite those assurances, Satcher urged the board to deny funding for the pregnancy prevention program. However, other board members chose to provide the $243,124 PACE requested.

“I can’t imagine that any Republican on this board wants to see money going to Planned Parenthood,” Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said.

“I am unequivocally in support of funding pregnancy prevention at PACE,” Ballard added.

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Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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