COLORS: Alumni Work to Provide LGBTQ-affirmative Therapy to Nurture and Empower Youth

By Nicole Colson

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With a far-reaching background in social justice and theater activism, Cynthia Ruffin, ’13 (Los Angeles, BA in Liberal Studies) was in the perfect position to raise awareness of COLORS LGBTQ youth mental health program.

Ruffin was trained in counseling at Vanier College in Montreal and then in theatre at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Her work in theater activism began with LGBTQ youth who were kicked out of their homes for being gay and resorted to survival sex. She went on to work in emergency shelters with young survivors of domestic violence, ex-addicts, people with developmental disabilities and those struggling with homelessness.

Ruffin is the first full-time director of COLORS, which provides free unlimited counseling services to LGBTQ youth under 25 as well as their families and/or partners. COLORS, which offers services at Antioch University Los Angeles’ Counseling Center, began in 2012 as a student capstone project. Since then, both the need and the program have grown.

“Suicide across the board is going up among young people,” Ruffin says. “For queer-identified youth, it’s increased twice as much, and for transgender youth, it’s almost triple.”

Cynthia Ruffin at DTLA Proud, one of the nine 2019 pride events that the COLORS program participated in this past summer.
Cynthia Ruffin at DTLA Proud, one of the nine 2019 pride events that the COLORS program participated in this past summer.

This youth population is also less likely to access the help that they need due to a variety of factors, including the inability to get themselves to therapy on their own because they are under 16, or out of fear of being found out and bullied by schoolmates or even family members. Families also struggle with what could happen to their children because they see escalating hate crimes and mental health concerns and need guidance navigating the landscape.

Jessie Jacobson, ’03 (Los Angeles, MA in Clinical Psychology) jumped at the opportunity to be involved with what she described as such a “groundbreaking, much-needed program.” Being a transgender woman, a graduate of Antioch’s first LGBT Specialization cohort, a former instructor on human sexuality, and a lecturer on all things LGBTQ+, it made more than perfect sense to her.

“The idea of a free, unlimited therapy program geared to the diverse, younger LGBTQ+ community is essential because COLORS offers a viable alternative to the systemic patriarchal, heterocentric, cisgender and racial biases found in so many institutions offering mental health services,” Jacobson says.

COLORS offers a viable alternative to the systemic patriarchal, heterocentric, cisgender and racial biases found in so many institutions offering mental health services

Henry Campagna, ’11 (Los Angeles, MA in Clinical Psychology) served as coordinator and therapist with COLORS and was a member of the team for two years (2011-2013). He is a mental health therapist at Men’s Health Foundation’s SoCal Club Program, which is located in South LA and provides a safe space and free LGBT Affirmative psychotherapy for queer youth of color. “We are currently working on a collaboration between COLORS and Men’s Health Foundation for COLORS counselors to join the mental health program at SoCal Club,” he says.

This summer, COLORS staff and youth created a mobile mural celebrating LGBTQ youth that was displayed at pride events. “Murals are so much about creating a sense of place,” Ruffin says. “We’re putting out the idea to LGBTQ youth that their safe place is all over greater Los Angeles. With this youth group, there’s a sense of isolation. This kind of activity creates a sense of community for them.”

Participants in the mural project at Queers in the Park at Debs Park.
Participants in the mural project at Queers in the Park at Debs Park.

Thanks to a grant from a local organization, COLORS is poised to hire a second clinical supervisor. “It will get kids off the waiting list and also serve students who want to do internships with COLORS,” Ruffin says. “We are envisioning what COLORS can really look like in the future.”

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