February 24, 2024

Women Leaders

Support for LGBTQ: Profile of Cindy Watson and the JASMYN network

Cindy Watson's JASMYN provides aid to more than 600 each year.

Amy Martinez | 10/26/2018

In 1994, Cindy Watson helped create JASMYN (Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network) to provide health and education services for young LGBTQ people in Northeast Florida. Today, the Jacksonville-based non-profit has an annual budget of nearly $2 million and a full-time staff of 22.

Each year, more than 600 people between ages 13 and 23 receive services at JASMYN’s three-building campus, which includes learning and social space, a food pantry and walk-in clinic for sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment. Watson, the organization’s CEO since 1998, spoke with FLORIDA TREND about advocating for LGBTQ youth.

  • Her background: “In the early 1990s, I was a paralegal at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. I was doing health care advocacy work, and one of my assignments was to work on issues involving people with HIV and AIDS. Mostly, people were dying very young and very quickly. Part of my job was to help them with the documents they needed to prepare to die. I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something to prevent this epidemic from taking so many lives.’ Now, having HIV is not a death sentence; it’s a chronic illness. But I never forget those days.”
  • JASMYN’s approach: “If a young person comes to us and has just been kicked out of their home and they have no place to stay, our case managers begin a process that we call wrap-around services to try to figure out how they can get safe. Do they need a meal? Do they need clothes? Who can they talk to? We work with them to articulate, ‘What is it that I need to do?’ And then we help them with resources. We take a very youth-centric approach.”
  • Funding sources: “A third of our funding comes from government grants for HIV prevention and some of our homeless work. A large percentage comes from private foundations and donors who really want to make a difference. And we host two signature events during the year.”
  • Changing attitudes: “Our vision is to see all LGBTQ young people as affirmed — not just accepted, but affirmed and celebrated for who they are. It gets easier all the time, but we still have work to do. Our young people still face blatant discrimination, and they still experience stigma.”


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