BreakOUT! Director, Wesley Ware, was honored as one of Gambit Weekly’s “40 Under 40” this year for his work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/ questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Although appreciative of the recognition he and BreakOUT! received as a result of the award, Wes believes that the real honorees are the members of BreakOUT!, young people who are 13-24 years old who are organizing to fight the criminalization of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans. These young people are bravely working to improve the very systems that have harmed them and reimagining what safety and justice for LGBTQ youth really look like in our community. Read the Gambit Weekly article below and check out the other honorees here.
More often affected by the factors that cause people to commit crimes — homelessness, difficulty in school and increased risk of substance abuse — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, especially African-Americans, constitute a large percentage of the prison population, says Wesley Ware. Once inside prison, they often face more discrimination and sexual assault.
Ware says he always noticed this trend, and through his work in Georgia prisons, with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and now with his nonprofit BreakOUT! he hopes to combat this.
“I really wanted to do something that gave young people an opportunity to come together and organize, and also for them to build a community with one another and have a say in what’s happening in reform efforts in New Orleans,” Ware says.
BreakOUT! empowers 13- to 24-year-old LGBTQ youth through weekly meetings covering social justice issues and community organizing; “healing justice” workshops that use things like yoga, acupuncture and meditation to relieve stress; leadership development workshops and policy reform campaigns.
Besides founding BreakOUT! Ware has helped create policies for New Orleans’ youth detention centers that have become national models. He also coordinated an investigation into conditions in Louisiana prisons for a class-action lawsuit and has published works on LGBTQ youth in the justice system, as well as making presentations at several conferences.
A group like BreakOUT! is especially important in New Orleans, where Ware says many LGBTQ youth seek safe haven but often become victims of discrimination and unfair policing.
“We’ve found that a lot of LGBTQ youth come here from other places — rural areas of Louisiana or even some of our neighboring states,” Ware says. “We’ve had young people run away from home in hopes of finding a culture here of acceptance.” — LaBorde