Highlighting the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth
Pride 2022 comes at a time of major turmoil for LGBTQIA+ Americans, as the rights, liberties, and personhood of queer individuals comes under attack—so to mark Pride this year, we are partnering with and supporting the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY) in hopes of building a better world for LGBTQIA+ people and amplifying their voices freely and openly. Founded in 1980, BAGLY is a youth-led, adult-supported organization committed to social justice, and creating, sustaining and advocating for programs, policies and services for the queer youth community in Boston.
We spoke to Kurtlan Massarsky (he/him/his), Director of Development and Marketing at BAGLY, to understand more about their values and the incredible ways in which they help to build a safer world for queer youth in the city of Boston. Read more about our efforts for Pride 2022 here, and learn more about BAGLY’s work and mission below.
The MIT Press: BAGLY was established over 40 years ago and has made an impact in the lives of more than 40,000 young people in and around Boston. How has the organization’s role in the community changed over the years?
Kurtlan Massarsky: BAGLY came together at a time before any legal protections—and prior to the tipping point of social acceptance—for queer individuals. The landscape was so incredibly different back then. BAGLY was responding to the needs of the community with little to no resources. Now over 40 years later, the role of BAGLY hasn’t actually changed, but the work has.
Our role has always been to provide spaces and resources for young queer and trans people seeking opportunities and community; to help develop their power and leadership; to provide resources to promote their health and wellness; and to help them shape policy and practice across the state so that they can set the stage for the next round of emerging young leaders. That has remained constant. But the approach, of course, has evolved in response to growth in support and more sound legal and social protections.
In 1980, BAGLY was very Boston specific—but because it was the only resource around, young people came from as far away as was feasible to take advantage of our programs. One of our crowning achievements, I think, is having established the AGLY network, which provides financial and technical assistance to 15 independent LGBTQ+ youth groups across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Nowadays, whether you are from the Berkshires or the Cape or the Merrimack River Valley, there is an AGLY nearby that will be better able to respond to your needs. I think that that’s one of the most important changes the organization has gone through within the community.
The MIT Press: How have the services BAGLY provides evolved to meet emerging crises and to better serve the community as it exists today?
Kurlan Massarsky: Over the years we’ve been able to expand our services while still staying true to our organization’s model, which we are very proud of. We’re a youth-led, adult-supported organization with a democratically-elected youth leadership committee–so we are very responsive to the needs we hear directly from our program participants.
In recent years, we were looking for a way to respond to the growing mental health crisis. Mental health isn’t a “new” issue in the queer youth community, but we were only able to provide direct services in that area when we received pilot funding from Boston Children’s Hospital several years ago that allowed us to launch a pilot program around behavioral and mental health. Through this program we have provided over 700 free one-on-one therapy sessions for BAGLY members with no need for insurance or an appointment; we have helped educate peer youth leaders to run mental health support groups; and we have brought our learnings to the AGLY network and provided them with 15 mobile therapy units, so that young people from across the state can access the therapy services they so badly need from the comforts of their home AGLY.
Now we’re launching two exciting initiatives; one is called Host Homes, which offers a holistic approach to interrupting chronic LGBTQ+ post-youth homelessness. We will help to provide transitional housing. While the young person is in that transitional housing, they will go through curricula designed specifically to support queer and trans youth who are experiencing homelessness; and they will also have access to BAGLY’s suite of mental behavioral health programs and services. When they are ready to move beyond transitional housing, they will have experienced attention for their whole being: they’ll have done risk assessments, will have built up their life skills, they will have been prepared for employment, and more.
Hand-in-hand with that is a new program that will help young queer and trans people earn their high school equivalency degrees. There are so many barriers for young queer people to graduate once they have been pushed out of the school system. What we’re trying to do with all of these services is to address the issues that put young people in these precarious positions in the first place.
The MIT Press: Has your work in 2022 felt different, or more fraught, than recent years?
Kurtlan Massarsky: It’s hard to keep a level head in this work. We simultaneously have to care about the individual, and be thinking about the needs of the population. If we want those needs of the individual to be assuaged across the board, we need to think about population-level needs. With the pandemic and the current political landscape, there has been an exponential increase in harmful and dangerous scenarios for young queer and trans people to find themselves in—or to be deliberately and strategically put in.
So far, this country’s state apparatus has kept the worst from happening on a population level but has had devastating impacts on the individual level. And now we’re seeing the state apparatus being weaponized in a whole new way after a brief moment of more progressive and compassionate political and legal infrastructure.
We’re in a really dire moment right now. We are losing young people. It’s hard to understate that.
The MIT Press: BAGLY offers a variety of services for the LGBTQIA+ community, including a clinic, mental health services, and events aimed at creating a safe, welcoming environment for queer youth in Boston. Where do you feel you have made the greatest impact?
Kurtlan Massarsky: In some ways, I would say our crowning achievement is in staying so close to our mission while keeping our work relevant, effective, and impactful.
You see it in the wonderful things that BAGLY’s former community members are able to do in this world. There are the bigger, more grandiose examples—but more impactful for me is to think of one of the first young people I had the chance to work with, who is currently living a quiet life working in public health. Even so, she is bringing her years of youth leadership development and education to her current role to make her area of the world a little bit better: making sure intake roles are more inclusive; or ensuring that service and care providers are better educated in LGBTQ+ issues and can serve queer young people when they need care.
I think of the myriad and diverse ways these young people are using the things they learn at BAGLY and the things they teach one other to make a more inclusive, kinder, and healthier world that we all get to inhabit. There’s no way to quantify it, but I see that as our biggest impact.
The MIT Press: How can the local community get involved with BAGLY’s efforts?
Kurtlan Massarsky: There’s a huge variety of ways. Once our community center is reopened post-expansion, we will see a greater number of opportunities for volunteers. Supporting BAGLY with a donation is a strong and impactful way of showing one’s support. Keeping up with our social media and newsletters is key, so when (not if) a young queer and trans person comes into your life, you will be better educated and aware of the resources available to help them feel more centered in themselves and to live happier, healthier lives.
Like any good ally, donate when you can, educate yourself always, and volunteer.
The MIT Press: What message would you hope to share with queer youth reading the news today?
Kurtlan Massarsky: The strength of the opposition is deceptive. In fact, at its core, it’s rotten—because it’s based on bad values and bad faith. There are so many people, themselves included, that are dedicated to fighting back. I won’t say that it will always be easy, or it won’t be messy, or that we won’t feel very, very hurt in the process. But they are already making it better every day by being here and keeping themselves safe and sane.
If you’re not near a BAGLY, or an AGLY, I promise you there are both individuals and organizations that are there to help. If you need help finding them, give us a call. We will help connect you because connection is what’s going to keep us all safe.
Sometimes survival is the successful outcome.