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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 27 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 30
SGN exclusive interview:
Heather Carter, winner of Champions for Change award
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SGN exclusive interview:
Heather Carter, winner of Champions for Change award

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Heather Carter describes herself as a 'humble' person.

Even when speaking to SGN about her trip to the White House to receive a Champions for Change award honoring her suicide prevention work with LGBT youth, she is quick to give credit to others.

Carter was the subject of a video submitted to the White House as part of President Obama's Winning the Future initiative highlighting community activists. The video featuring Carter was one of five selected for recognition.

A White House press release called the winners 'ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things across the country to ensure safety, dignity, and equality for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.'

'I was overwhelmed,' Carter said of the experience. 'I was sitting there [at the awards ceremony] and I was thinking 'Wow! Do I deserve to be here?' I was just doing my work. I'm lucky to be in Seattle surrounded by so many activists.

'I feel so blessed that this administration has chosen to recognize the work people are doing within the LGBT population across the U.S. and can't believe I was one of them!'

SGN Associate Editor Shaun Knittel, who produced, scripted, and narrated the video, and filmmaker Dru Dinero deserve the credit, she insists.

The video highlights Carter's work as project manager of OUTLoud. Carter was hired by the Youth Suicide Prevention Program (YSPP) in 2007 to create an LGBT-specific suicide prevention program, which ultimately became OUTLoud.

Characteristically, when she recalls the ceremony honoring her work, she talks more about one of the other award winners than about herself.

George Stewart, an 80-year-old African-American SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) volunteer, particularly inspired her, she tells SGN.

'One of the biggest moments was meeting George,' she says. 'I think he should write a book - there are so many layers to his story. He was in the army when it was desegregated. And he was Gay.

'I'm in awe of him - I was so honored to be in the same room!'

Carter's training was as a mental health administrator, but, she said, 'I wanted to transition out of the mental health field. So much energy [in the mental health profession] goes into bureaucracy, and I wanted to focus on delivering services.

'Now I have one foot in mental health and one foot in social justice,' she continued.

Building on an initial grant from the Rainier Institute to start OUTLoud, Carter developed a program of trainings for teachers and staff in Washington state schools, focusing on at-risk LGBTQ youth.

'The first year I did tons of research,' she recalled, 'and a ton of outreach. The first thing we did was develop the training components. Then I developed the peer-to-peer program, where we bring in the kids themselves, and our bullying component - that's one of our strongest pieces.'

Besides developing the entire program content and recruiting peer counselors, Carter also had to raise money to supplement the original funding grant. She acknowledges the Pride Foundation and the United Way for helping to fund OUTLoud.

'I came across [the United Way] grant at a meeting for homeless youth,' Carter related. 'So many homeless youth have sexual orientation or gender identity issues. Nationally 40 percent, and in Seattle 50 to 60 percent, are LGBT.'

With the additional funds, Carter has expanded OUTLoud to Skagit and Snohomish counties, and also has an OUTLoud staffer in Spokane.

Although OUTLoud is expanding, Carter will not be overseeing the expansion, she told SGN.

'I'm transitioning out,' she announced, 'leaving at the end of August. I'm not worried about OUTLoud. It's my baby. I'm only going because I'm confident I've left it strong and sustainable.'

Carter says she will continue to work with at-risk youth.

'The work I'm doing is my passion,' she says. 'OSPI [the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction] runs a Legislature-mandated bullying committee and I will continue with that work. And I'll be doing some consulting.'

Carter takes a very practical approach to youth suicide prevention, and says she believes the whole community can contribute.

The most important thing is,' she insists, 'you can support LGBT youth. Especially around suicide prevention - there are things we can do.

'You can't address all the risk factors,' she explains, 'because that involves social and economic conditions that will take a long time to change. But the protective factors - genuine, caring adults you can trust, adults who can mentor at-risk youth - we can do all that.

'The thing to remember is that youth are powerful in themselves - they need support, but that should be to help them do what they can do for themselves.'

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