The Free to Be Youth Project was founded by Peter Cicchino, a dedicated activist, visionary, and professor that started it as the Gay and Lesbian Youth Project in 1994. Peter was born on August 12, 1960 and grew up in Kearny, New Jersey. He graduated from the University of Scranton in 1982 and joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). As a member of the Jesuits, Peter spent seven years working in soup kitchens, housing projects and prisons. Upon leaving the Jesuits, Peter worked in a homeless shelter, taught Peace and Justice Studies at Fordham University, and was arrested over two dozen times in civil disobedience actions protesting U.S. policy in Central America, nuclear arms proliferation, and police brutality. Peter attended Harvard Law School, and following law school, he served as special death penalty clerk for a New Jersey Supreme Court judge who was a death penalty abolitionist, and assisted the American Civil Liberties Union in its lawsuit that struck down Colorado’s statewide referendum prohibiting gay rights legislation.
Peter was tragically diagnosed with cancer in 1998, shortly after accepting a tenure track position at American University in Washington D.C., and passed away in 2000. The project was renamed in Peter’s honor.
Peter’s legacy was the indelible impact he had on friends, colleagues, and clients. In a tribute after his passing, a friend wrote that she felt that people flocked to Peter not only because they had great faith in his ability to make things right, but because he was “a deeply loving human being who treated each of us in a dignified and affirming way.”
This is the central tenet behind the Free to Be Youth Project, that our clients are entitled to be treated with dignity and justice, not judgment.
In 2017, Free to Be Youth (then the Peter Cicchino Youth Project) was named to the ABA’s National Homeless Youth Legal Network.