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 grew 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 to 9,000 youth and adults annually.
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, 22 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, inclusive of diverse beliefs and points of view. Most of YES Institute’s work happens through our educational dialogues and 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 openly, and the knowledge that one can both keep their beliefs and contribute to youth safety. Dialogues also include a speaker from YES Institute’s volunteers who have faced stigma related to their personal experience of gender and orientation. The speaker shares their experience during the dialogue and answers questions from the audience. Audiences that request our work include Early Learning Childhood administrators and teachers, Pre-K – 12th grade schools, workplaces, and medical and mental health providers among others.
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.
Note: These numbers are based on participant feedback surveys from 2017. YES Institute does not divulge any personal information on individual course or dialogue participants without the consent of the person in question.
Testimonials for Media Use
I learned new skills to be able to talk to parents when their little girl wants to play with trucks and LEGO toys instead of dolls and the kitchen set. – EARLY LEARNING COALITION OF MIAMI-DADE/MONROE TRAINING PARTICIPANT
People bully my brother because he cries sometimes. I even bully him. I learned how bullying can really change someone’s life. – NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENT
Now I see how being confrontational actually prevents me from making any positive difference. – PARENT
Opened my heart in a way I didn’t think possible. Now I can initiate a conversation with my mom, even though I’m afraid. – COLLEGE STUDENT
Changed my life! I feel like—for the first time—I’m seeing people for who they are. This will help save some important relationships. – SOCIAL WORKER
I am tired of tripping over my words with gay and transgender patients. Now I feel much more capable to relate to all my patients with respect. – PHYSICIAN, CITRUS HEALTH NETWORK
Before today, I felt all alone. Thank you for providing us with tools to address ‘antigay’ slurs and helping us to become better people! – HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, ARCHIMEDEAN ACADEMY
After the YES Institute dialogue, I now feel more knowledgeable to support my clients and families. – STAFF, CENTER FOR AUTISM & RELATED DISABILITIES
Authenticity brings freedom. This course allowed me to be myself and open up more. It made me realize that I am valuable. – MICHAEL, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT
Before today I only saw two solutions to arguments: either we agree, or I ‘prove my point.’ Now I can open space for real conversations and relationships. – AMANDA, TEACHER
Before today I felt only confusion or frustration towards gay and transgender people. Now I feel compassion. – HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI
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.