In the United States, there is a 30% suicide attempt rate among youth who describe their orientation as gay or lesbian, a 31% suicide attempt rate among youth labeled “transgender,” and 80% of youth harassed as gay in high school identify as heterosexual. YES Institute’s mission is to prevent suicide and ensure the healthy development of all youth through powerful communication and education on gender and orientation. By providing accessible education on gender and orientation for everyone in the South Florida community, and starting discussions at schools, hospitals, and places of faith about how to keep youth safe, YES Institute works to create a community in which all youth can develop as healthy individuals free of suicide, violence, and discrimination.
In 1995, after noticing a drastic spike in suicide rates among gay and lesbian youth, Connie Barden and Martha Fugate committed themselves to find out why the South Florida community wasn’t doing more to address it. During their search, they met many community leaders and educators who wanted to keep youth safe but had never received education on gender and orientation and were afraid to talk about it.
Discovering this, Connie and Martha in 1996 started Project YES. Originally, Project YES was a volunteer based initiative that met monthly at Switchboard of Miami and continued to look for the specific challenges community members faced in addressing youth suicide. In December 1997, Project YES became an official nonprofit, moving into an office at Riviera Presbyterian Church. Eventually, Project YES morphed into YES Institute, a full-time nonprofit organization operating out of South Florida and the only organization in the U.S. providing both education and communication on gender and orientation.
Connie now serves as the founding board chair emeritus, and Martha served as the executive director of YES Institute until 2008 and stayed on as a consultant until retiring in 2013. Now, 21 years after its founding, YES Institute continues to work toward a community whose diverse members can speak and work powerfully and confidently on keeping youth safe.
YES Institute’s work is focused on communication. We provide members of the community with tools on how to talk about gender and orientation, be a pillar for at-risk youth, and foster powerful relationships regardless of one’s beliefs. Most of YES Institute’s work manifests itself through our community dialogues and education courses.
During a dialogue, a YES Institute facilitator visits a segment of the community (ex. a parent-teacher association) and hosts a conversation with that group around how gender and orientation have shown up in their lives. The purpose of a dialogue is to give people the space to examine the obstacles in the way of keeping youth safe, the confidence to talk about gender and orientation, and the knowledge that one can both keep their beliefs and contribute to youth safety. Dialogues also include a speaker from YES Institute’s volunteer base who has faced challenges related to their personal experience of gender and orientation. The speaker shares their experience during the dialogue and answers questions from the audience.
Additionally, YES Institute provides education courses on gender, orientation, bullying, leadership, and communication. Our most popular course, Communication Solutions™, revolves around how to remove the barriers damaging relationships, express ourselves authentically, and talk about gender and orientation in a way that promotes actual communication rather than argumentation. We provide all of our courses and dialogues in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and American Sign Language when requested.
2016 Feedback Survey Results
Note: These numbers are based on participant feedback surveys from 2016. YES Institute does not divulge any personal information on individual course or dialogue participants without the consent of the person in question.
- 97% of course participants rated their course “worthwhile” or “extremely worthwhile”
- 94% of dialogue participants rated their dialogues “worthwhile” or “extremely worthwhile.”
- 91% of dialogue participants reported having increased their knowledge on gender and orientation.
- 88% of dialogue participants increased their willingness to speak up when hearing someone use anti-gay slurs
- 87% of dialogue participants committed to decreasing their use of anti-gay slurs.
- 86% of dialogue participants felt more equipped handling situations around gender and orientation.
- 81% of dialogue participants increased their comfort with transgender people.
- 76% of dialogue participants increased their comfort around people who describe their orientation as gay, bisexual, or lesbian.
Note: These numbers are based on participant attendance in 2016. YES Institute does not divulge any personal information on individual course or dialogue participants without the consent of the person in question.
- 24% of participants were nurses, doctors, and hospital staff members.
- 19% of participants were teachers and administrators.
- 13% of participants were therapists and psychologists.
- 38% of participants were Hispanic or Latino.
- 20% of participants were of non-Hispanic European descent.
- 15% of participants were of African descent.
- 25% of participants were between the ages of 5-17.
- 24% of participants were between the ages of 18-24.
- 33% of participants were between the ages of 25-44.
- 18% of participants were 45 years old or higher.
Testimonials for Media Use
When I come to YES Institute, I get the rare opportunity to think, investigate and come up with ideas that will actually make a difference.- Barbara Chotiner, MDCPS Teacher
The material made me look at these topics in a new way. It opened my eyes to how gender and orientation show up in medicine. Before today, it was invisible to me.- medical student, Phi Delta Epsilon Medical Fraternity
This dialogue redefined my definition of femininity and masculinity and made me feel more secure about being more of a tomboy.- 16 year old high school student
This is an organization with a track record of making a real difference in the world. Political victories mean little if the hearts and minds of parents, clergy, and teachers do not change.- Jonathan Lewis, Member of YES Institute’s Kiaora Society of Donors
YES Institute is a nonpartisan, nondenominational educational organization, not an advocacy group. YES Institute’s work is intended for everyone, regardless of belief. Similarly, YES Institute is not an LGBT organization because its work revolves around gender and orientation (which everyone has an experience of) and is intended for the entire community. Describing YES Institute as an LGBT organization or advocacy group is inaccurate.
Further Press Inquiries
Contact Liz Amore at 305-663-7195 or email for further information. YES Institute’s office is located at the Riviera Presbyterian Church at 5275 Sunset Dr, Miami, FL 33143.
Logos for Media Use
Luke Jude, Executive Director
Joseph Zolobczuk, Director of Education
Tim Wagoner, Director of Operations
Eva-Leivas Andino, Director of Development
Visnia Scanio, Administrative Manager
Jennifer Lopez, Community Dialogue Facilitator
Liz Amore, Donor Relations and Communications Manager