History & Purpose



In 1998, the brutal hate crime murder of gay student Matthew Shepard brought together a group of local Philadelphia activists who decided that it was time something had to be done.

United in common outrage, James H. Bryson, activist and philanthropist, and the Executive Directors of Episcopal Community Services of Philadelphia (ECS), Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Greater Philadelphia (JFCS), and Lutheran Children and Family Service (LCFS) together committed themselves to building support, encouragement, and education on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth across the country. To fulfill this mission, the group came together in the spirit of justice, compassion, and concern for the well being of all young people, specifically their right to have access to safe spaces.

In December 2000, James Bryson and the faith based agencies joined forces with The Attic Youth Center, whose history and expertise in providing services to LGBTQ youth would serve to propel the project forward. The Attic Youth Center and the faith partners recognized the opportunity to help the region’s youth to develop in a more inclusive and supportive environment and together created the James H. Bryson Institute of The Attic Youth Center.


Since 2001, the Institute has been working to educate youth and adults about issues of respect and diversity. The Institute supports individuals, communities, and organizations in effecting personal and organizational changes to build inclusive environments that recognize and promote the value of diversity. In less than a decade, the Institute has trained over 28,000 individuals in schools/colleges/university systems, social service agencies, workplaces, faith-based organizations, and communities to help create supportive and affirming environments for the LGBTQ community, specializing in particular in the needs of LGBTQ youth.

The Bryson Institute of The Attic Youth Center is committed to improving the climate and support systems for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) people, and specifically for LGBTQ youth and young adults. By providing education, outreach, and consultation services to the spaces that impact them the most, we seek to create more supportive and affirming places, spaces, and faces for all those who fall within the realm of the LGBTQ identity.

While supporters of LGBTQ rights have made substantial movement toward equality in recent years, many LGBTQ individuals still live in hostile climates that lend themselves to negative personal and professional outcomes. Recent research provides further support for the work we do. Some striking findings include:

  • 30% of youth report physical violence from a family member after coming out (Youth in the Margins)
  • In 74% of Pennsylvania, employees can still be legally fired for being LGBTQ (Equality Advocates)
  • Approximately 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ (Family Acceptance Project)
  • Hate incidents against LGBT people and HIV-affected persons increased 13% from 2009 to 2010 (National Coalition for Anti-Violence Programs)
  • LGBTQ students drop out of school at a rate of 3x the national average (GLSEN)
  • Nearly half (42%) of LGBT youth in out-of-home settings who participated in a study on family acceptance and rejection of LGBT adolescents were adolescents were either removed or ejected from their homes because of conflict related to their LGBT identity. (Ryan & Diaz)
  • LGBTQ youth are 5.4x more likely to require medical attention for suicide attempts (Youth Risk Behavior Survey)