Bay Area Reporter :: LYRIC Welcomes New ED

As it once again provides in-person services, San Francisco’s leading LGBTQ youth agency has welcomed its new executive director. While Laura Lala-Chávez does not plan to roll out any new programs until next year, addressing the housing needs of the city’s homeless gay youth should remain one of the agency’s top priorities.

Lala-Chávez, a first-generation non-binary Mexican-American, officially took charge of the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center on Monday, October 25. LYRIC interim executive director Toni Newman remains on board to advise Lala-Chávez until November 15. , when she leaves to lead the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles on an interim basis.

“Laura has known what she does and has worked with young people for years. I’m just here to support her and pass on information,” said Newman, a black transgender woman who divides her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles, where her husband has been living for a year.

In a joint phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter on the morning of Lala-Chávez’s first day, the two LGBTQ leaders spoke about the challenges LYRIC and its clients aged 11 to 24 have faced throughout the COVID pandemic. -19 and what’s going on. store at the agency’s “Purple House” at 127 Collingwood Street, in the heart of the city’s LGBTQ Castro neighborhood.

“For now, I really want to know where the programs are, get to know the staff and find out what went well and what the challenges were,” said Lala-Chávez, who has two young children with their spouse, Cheryl. “We are still obviously in a pandemic. “

Like all of the city’s other nonprofits, LYRIC was ordered to close in March 2020 at the onset of the health crisis and has pivoted to offer all possible services through online platforms. Last month, it reopened and is now open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, Newman noted.

“We are seeing our numbers go up and young people re-engaging,” she said.

But the prolonged closure of his building and the inability to see his young clientele face to face have taken their toll, Newman admitted. As with other vulnerable groups, such as LGBTQ seniors, LYRIC clients have struggled with isolation and loneliness brought on by the need to shelter in place and restrict social interactions due to the health crisis. .

“We have seen that a number of young people have been depressed, lonely and that sort of thing. It comes from the front line staff who work directly with young people,” Newman said. “That’s why we reopened so that the young people have a place to go, have something to eat and reconnect with the staff and other young people.”

All LYRIC employees have been vaccinated, Newman said, and are required to wear masks inside the office. Young people entering LYRIC’s building must also wear masks, and the agency hopes to offer COVID testing to its customers soon.

“We have PPE on the first floor and all that, so that they can put on a mask and be safe as well. We hope to test the youngsters in the near future when they arrive, and we are trying to solve that problem now,” a Newman said. “I just think it’s important that we take care of our kids and that everyone gets tested. It is beneficial for the staff and the young people. “

With vaccines set to roll out soon for children under 12, LYRIC is working with the city’s health department to be able to refer its unvaccinated clients to providers who will vaccinate them against the coronavirus, Newman said.

Lala-Chávez added: “LYRIC wants to make it as easy as possible to bring all the resources to young people.”

As they assess the programs LYRIC currently offers and the gaps in their services, Lala-Chávez said their priority is to ensure that the agency meets young people fairly where they are and that an expansion of its services are done in a responsible and sustainable manner. LYRIC’s budget for the current fiscal year is set at around $ 3 million, and Lala-Chávez will earn $ 160,000.

“I want to be intentional and not add too much to everyone’s plate,” said Lala-Chávez, adding that their goal in adding new programs is to see that this is “programming of quality instead of stretching ourselves too thin. I want to learn what went well during the pandemic and the shelter in place to really assess what kind of program we have in the future. “

Former interim LYRIC ED Toni Newman. Photo: Courtesy of Toni Newman

Housing is a need
One issue affecting LYRIC customers that has become of even greater concern during the pandemic is housing, Newman noted. The agency is a designated coordinated entry site for homeless and marginal housed youth (18-24 years old) and helps connect them with a variety of housing resources and opportunities.

“If they go to a shelter, they are often abused and abused. That’s a lot,” Newman said.

In order to immediately move street youth to housing, LYRIC will book short-term rental through sites such as Airbnb or a local hotel room, Newman noted. She is finalizing a $ 100,000 contract with the city’s homeless service to continue offering such a resource, she noted.

The paperwork required for the city’s coordinated entry program “can take a long time and it leaves young people on the streets; this is unacceptable, ”Newman said. “Being able to say that we can house you, fix this problem and get you off the streets is a beautiful thing.”

Lala-Chávez added that tackling homelessness among LGBTQ youth will remain a priority for the agency under his tenure. It is estimated that over 40% of homeless youth in the city identify as LGBTQ.

“This has been one of the biggest challenges for young people here at LYRIC and certainly a city wide challenge,” they said. “Definitely, it’s a priority for me, for sure.”

Lala-Chávez joins LYRIC a month after the agency’s board of directors and staff finalized a contract so that its employees are now unionized, and several months before it undertakes a major renovation of its early building. 2022. Former CEO Jodi Schwartz, a queer woman who led LYRIC for 15 years, is now overseeing the $ 2.5 million fundraising campaign for the long-planned project that will bring interior and exterior improvements to the agency building.

“I think the goal for us is really to put LGBTQ youth, especially youth of color, in the city first, not just here at the Purple House but across the city, and to find partnerships across the city. the city that truly uplifts LGBTQ youth and youth of color, ”said Lala-Chávez, 42, who had served as executive director of Challenge Day, a national organization focused on building empathy, compassion and empowerment. equity in school communities across the country. “I will work to establish and restore these relationships, so that all of the young people we serve across the city are encouraged and supported not only during the pandemic, but also into the future. after the pandemic. ”

As for Newman, she said she looked forward to working with staff at the Black AIDS Institute to move past its controversies this year stemming from the sacking of its previous CEO Raniyah Copeland in late August. She had complained months earlier that the chairman of the association’s board had fostered a toxic work environment.

“This is the first time in eight years that I’m actually going to work in Los Angeles and not commute” by plane, said Newman, who ten years ago worked closely with the agency. struggle against AIDS. “I know the Black AIDS Institute very well and its fight to end the AIDS epidemic in the black and brown community. I only accept jobs with assignments that are close to my heart … and I am happy to intervene and reassure the staff as we move forward. “

To learn more about LYRIC and its programs, visit

Comments are closed.