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United Way Blog

Here’s How Four Communities Advance Inclusivity Every Day

Last week, the City of Orlando held solemn observances to reflect on the 8th anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, which killed 49 people in the LGBTQ+ haven. But the tragedy’s long-term impact goes beyond remembrance ceremonies.

After the shooting, United Way stepped up – as we always do in the wake of manmade or natural disasters affecting the tens of thousands of our communities. Heart of Florida United Way, which serves Central Florida, partnered with the Orange County government and others to fund and operate the Orlando United Assistance Center. The center was a central point of community support for survivors, families, first responders and trauma teams affected by the tragedy.

Eight years later, the center is still critical to building community inclusivity, says Jonathon Adler, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Heart of Florida United Way.

Today, the center has evolved its role. In 2021, Heart of Florida United Way transitioned management of the Orlando United Assistance Center to a nonprofit partner, The LGBTQ+ Center Orlando, to continue to provide culturally competent, trauma-informed services. Now, those directly and indirectly impacted by the Pulse tragedy can receive wraparound services focused on holistic health.  

Heart of Florida United Way and the LGBTQ+ Center Orlando partner together on community initiatives to promote and empower the LGBT community and its allies through advocacy, education, information, and support. Additionally, Heart of Florida United Way continues to help fund the efforts of the LGBTQ+ Center Orlando, along with funding the Zebra Coalition, which offers housing, mental health and other wellness support for LGBTQ+ youth.

Supporting LGBTQ+ youth is also a priority for United Way of Larimer County in Fort Collins, Colorado. "Right now, what we're really seeing is a mental health crisis among our youth,” said Joy Sullivan, President and CEO of United Way of Larimer County. “One in three kids identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community here, and their rates of suicidal ideations, thinking about suicide, or self-harm are critically disproportionate to their peers.”  

Statistics from a 2021 Healthy Kids Colorado survey were grim: some 40% of gay or lesbian students reported self-harm, compared to 19% of their straight counterparts. In response, United Way of Larimer County partnered with Out Boulder County, now called Rocky Mountain Equality, to expand support services for LGBTQ+ youth in Northern Colorado. One visible outcome is an interactive mural on the United Way building in downtown Fort Collins, promoting mental health for LGTBQ+ youth. Supported by United Way, Imagine Zero, The Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County, and the Fort Collins Mural Project, the mural incorporates a QR code that brings to life messages from LGTBQ+ youth regarding their mental health experiences. Artist Jess Bean drew inspiration from more than 10,000 LGTBQ+ and BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) teens, gathered over several years.

United Way CEO Sullivan talks more about the mural and United Way’s support of LGTBQ+ teens in this recent television interview.

Other United Way support of LGBTQ+ youth in Fort Collins is less visible, but equally impactful. United Way of Larimer County’s Community Impact Center houses offices for 12 nonprofits, including several serving LGBTQ youth, like Rocky Mountain Equality, Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and Yarrow Collective. By offsetting rental costs, providing trainings, and convening partners to increase nonprofit collaboration, United Way of Larimer County’s Community Impact Center is enhancing LGTBQ+ youth access to vital resources.  

While United Way’s support for inclusivity – all year long, not just during pride celebration moments – looks different across our global network, the commonality is our commitment to mobilizing people to action so all can thrive.

United Way México supported P&G during the last Pride celebration, through a community program designed for Muxes in Oaxaca.  Muxes are a third gender among the Zapotec people in Oaxaca, who maintain traditional dress, language, and culture.  

United Way México’s support enhanced cause marketing efforts celebrating the Muxe identity. In response to Muxes’ historic exclusion from jobs and financial opportunities, the P&G and United Way partnership is working to empower Muxes and strengthen their financial security.

And it’s making a difference. “I am Muxe who is worth a lot in her town,” Kristal Alquino Esteban, an activist and health coordinator in Oaxaca, said proudly. The P&G-United Way partnership helped Kristal and 100+ people strengthen their financial security. So far, 22+ have opened their first bank account; 46+ have found jobs; and 17 (and counting!) have launched small businesses.   

This empowerment strategy represents a deep commitment to the community, including a storytelling campaign with a film written and narrated by Muxes themselves. Check out the P&G film below.

United Way Costa Rica (called AED-United Way Costa Rica) leads Pride Connection Costa Rica, a place for best-practice exchange that seeks to develop collaborative corporate initiatives promoting human rights of the LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) population. So far, 40 companies across Costa Rica are taking part.  

In April, AED-United Way Costa Rica teamed up with the LGBTIQ Migration and Refugee Institute for Central America (IRCA Casa Abierta) to take action to promote the socioeconomic integration of LGBTIQ+ migrant and refugee populations in Costa Rica. They issued a letter of intent, signaling their commitment to generate job opportunities, training, entrepreneurship and awareness in the business sector about the challenges faced by this group.  

“We collaborate on training and accompanying companies for the labor inclusion of the LGBTIQ+ population,” said Olga Sauma, Executive Director of AED-United Way Costa Rica. That training includes a toolbox for the integration of LGBTIQ+ people in workspaces; a free, online course called Walking Towards Equality; as well as the Pride Connection space.  

“We have been involved in several projects on migration issues, such as the Living Integration Program, which generated an articulated work to increase labor insertion, entrepreneurship, debunking myths and applying migration legislation at all levels,” Sauma said. “In the last two years, we’ve supported projects on recruitment and ethical hiring of migrant workers, training, and strengthening the capacities of companies and recruiters.”

All four of these inspirational community collaborations are rooted in United Way's belief – translated daily into action – that every person is worthy of respect, and deserves opportunities to succeed in school, work, and life.

If you want to be part of this work, please contact your local United Way, and find out how you can get involved in making your community a better place.