As a part of Avner Dafni and Irit Zviely-Efrat’s recent visit to the US – sponsored by A Wider Bridge – we brought them to Lambert House, a Seattle center for LGBT youth.
The afternoon of March 13, a small group of Israelis were standing on the porch of Lambert House on Capitol Hill. One, a slightly graying, trim man, was Avner Dafni, the executive director of Israel Gay Youth. Another, smoking, also dark-haired, was Irit Zviely-Efrat, the woman who runs Hoshen, an education and outreach center of the LGBT community in Israel.
They were on a fact-sharing (as distinguished from simple fact-finding) tour of Seattle’s advocacy and service organizations, this visit to Lambert House following a lunch meeting with Seattle’s LBGT business chamber, the GSBA. They’d visited the Ingersoll Gender Center, for Trans people and the people who support them, and met with representatives from Jewish Family Services and the Jewish Federation, the Safe Schools Coalition, and Queer Youth Space. Sabina Neem from Seattle’s LGBT Commission and the City Council’s Tom Rasmussen had met up with them at the GSBA lunch.
Now they’d be talking with Ken Shulman, Lambert House’s executive director. Lambert House calls itself the “largest community center in the Northwest for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (GLBTQ) youth,” and both Dafni (from IGY) and Zviely-Efrat (from Hoshen, education and change) were visibly impressed at the size of the Victorian house, which comes complete with staff offices, a well-stocked library, a kitchen and dining room, a computer lab with internet access, and living rooms that contain a pool table, upright piano, and electronic keyboards. A magazine rack featured several issues of Out and The Advocate, and a Batman comic book.
Founded in 1981, it was one of the first GLBTQ centers in the U.S.; about 700 kids between 11 and 22 stop in each year, one-quarter of whom are homeless (a still-too-common side effect of coming out to parents), and for whom Lambert House is something like home, with adult volunteers to rely on and group dinners five nights a week. About 80 volunteer staff, Shulman explained, taking three-hour shifts, keep the House running. (Because they work with LGBT and homeless youth, they go through a three-month application process.)
There’s a Friday night queer film series, hiking trips, and seminars on sex, dating, and healthy relationships. Entertainment options include the Worst Case Scenario Game, Taboo, and Balderdash. On average, said Shulman, 15 to 25 kids drop in between 4 and 9:30 p.m. “It’s a big declaration to walk in the door” that first time, he said. New visitors often visibly tremble, and words spill out in a rush or not at all. Some can’t, momentarily, pronounce their own name. Newcomers get a 30-minute orientation.