By Amanda Socci
ALEXANDRIA,VA- It took a while for Jorden Costen to open up. The Alexandrian spent his formative years struggling with his identity. He started to come out of his shell regarding his sexuality in high school and later at Howard University, where he was relieved to be accepted among peers in the LGBTQ community. He started working with LGBTQ students in college, and found how important it was for kids to have something that he never had when he was growing up – a safe space to be themselves.
“Kids are uncomfortable with sexuality,” Costen told The Zebra. “It’s important to listen to them and their experience.”
The statistics on LGBTQ youth are troubling, as an estimated 77 percent of LGBTQ teens feel depressed, 95 percent have issues sleeping at night, and 95 percent of students reported that their teachers and school staff are supportive, according to a 2017 Human Rights Campaign study.
Costen’s belief in the effectiveness of mentor programs for LGBT youth prompted him to found the non-profit Safe Space NOVA in 2016. The organization meets every six to eight weeks and connects mentors with LGBT kids between 14-18 years old. The nonprofit targets its services to students ages 14 – 18 Prince William County, Fairfax County, Arlington County, and the City of Alexandria.
“I love interacting and working with people,” Costen said. “In 2016, I switched from working behind-the-scenes to being in the front.”
Costen was raised in Atlanta, GA, and said that he always felt different than others, but couldn’t bring himself to express his true identity to the outside world. He noted that there was not a single traumatic moment or event that defined his ability to express himself as a member of the LGBT community. Rather, it was a gradual process that slowly built up a level of comfort and confidence. While he isn’t volunteering for Safe Space NOVA for roughly 25-30 hours a week on nights and weekends, Costen has a full-time job in information technology account management.
All seven Safe Space NOVA staffers are volunteers. All donations received go to the operations of the nonprofit, including renting space for their teen social programs.
“We’re doing a lot of work building relationships with organizations that have similar values to ours,” Costen said. “We are working with advocacy in the media on some controversial issues, formulating op-eds. Our website is always up-to-date and has resources. We have an active social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.”
Costen, who is married The Zebra’s former West End Editor Charles Sumpter, founded Safe Space NOVA after looking in vain to volunteer for a local LGBTQ mentorship program. He couldn’t identify any group working with LGBTQ teens to guide, mentor, and help them process the same social stigmas he experienced when he was a kid at school.
“I’m hard-working, diligent, and motivated. I like to formulate a plan and carry it out,” Costen said. “I don’t spend too much time stopping to smell the roses. I have to complete steps to reach my goals,”
For more, visit http://safespacenova.org/.