Story at a glance
- Young Life is an international Christian youth ministry based out of Colorado.
- The viral hashtag “#DoBetterYoungLife” has been used to share experiences of discrimination while a part of Young Life.
- At least one former employee has also come forward with an allegation of sexual assault.
Kent Thomas was one of thousands of young Americans across the country who spent much of his childhood, adolescence and young adulthood in Young Life, a global Christian ministry for adolescents started in 1941 by Presbyterian minister Jim Rayburn.
On the last day of Pride month, the queer social worker shared his own experience feeling rejected by the Young Life community when he came out at 24.
His hashtag, “#YoungLifeDoBetter,” was used by dozens of Twitter users who shared their own experiences of discrimination at Young Life over their sexuality, gender and race.
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A Twitter account called "#DoBetterYoungLife" was created, linking to a website where current and former members of Young Life could share their story, sign a petition demanding change and email Young Life's Board of Trustees and other leadership. The Change.org petition had more than 6,600 signatures as of July 27, with a goal of 7,500 signatures.
"Since its founding, Young Life has proclaimed the notion of ‘every kid, everywhere.’ However, it has simultaneously created both covert and overt barriers to every position in the organization, from participating students to volunteers to paid staff. There have been countless stories of queer (also referred to as LGBTQIA+), low-income, and/or Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students being excluded, forced out, appropriated, or discriminated against," reads the petition.
The petition demands an immediate repeal of the Sexual Conduct Policy, which prevents LGBTQ+ people from participating as volunteer leaders or staff. It also asks for scholarships or stipends for low income students and leaders and mandatory diversity and inclusion training, including antiracist education, for all leaders, staff and crew. The petition also addresses a need for diversity within the organization, which employs 5,678 staff members, yet has just about 500 staff of color, or less than 10 percent.
In a statement to the Denver Post, Young Life apologized "to those who were hurt during their time in the organization." The organization also announced the creation of a council that will be co-chaired by Young Life’s chief human resources officer and vice president of administrative services.
“The council will review these stories and recommend the appropriate course of action in each case,” Young Life told the Denver Post. “The formation of this council is a next step in what we expect will be a long process of review, reflection, repentance and reform.”
There have also been allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Savannah Smith said on Twitter that a Young Life Speaker, Ty Saltzgiver, had sexually harassed her and other women.
And on their social media account, Rathod & Mohamedbhai LLC, an employment and civil rights law firm, said they were representing a former Young Life employee who had been sexually assaulted.
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