The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Homelessness & Gay Youth

I hadn’t intended to post over the holiday, but when I wanted to share this. I’ve written before about the homelessness epidemic among gay youth before and the special programs some communities are creating to meet their needs. The problem hasn’t gotten better, but special programs and shelters for homeless LGBT youth can make a difference.

One girl said she started living on the streets after her mother beat her for dressing like a boy. Another said she ran away from home after her father pulled a gun on her for hanging around with so many “tomboys.” A third said she left home after a family acquaintance raped her because she was a lesbian and he wanted to “straighten her out.”

But gathered at Ruth’s House, a 10-bed emergency shelter for gay homeless youths here in east Detroit, they all said that for the first time they felt safe.

Ruth’s House is one of a small number of shelters for gay youths that have opened around the nation in the past four years, reflecting an increasing awareness among child welfare advocates of the disproportionately high number of gay youths in the homeless population and the special problems they face.

… Once on the streets, advocates and researchers said, gay youths may be avoiding group homes, shelters and the foster care system because they are afraid they will face violence and harassment.

Some gay youths have said they were beaten in full view of shelter staff members who did nothing to help. Others said they were forced to wear distinctly colored jumpsuits so they could be identified easily in the shelter population.

“What that means is that these youth are an extremely vulnerable population,” said Jamie Van Leeuwen, a doctoral candidate at the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado.

But nothing’s more effective than hearing the kids tell their own stories.

I’ve been knocking around on web video sites this weekend, and I was on Veoh when I came across this video. It’s part of a series called My Address: A Look at Gay Youth Homelessness.

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Online Videos by Veoh.com

Watching the videos I was struck by two things: how many parents will throw their kids out of the house or drive them out because they LGBT, and how many of the youth in these videos were youth of color (Black, Latino, etc.). Virtually all of them were.

The woman who produced the series had this to say when she posted about it.

To begin to investigate this issue, I went to New York City with my friend and director, Gigi Nicolas. We visited the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI)—the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit social service, education and advocacy organization dedicated to serving LGBTQ youth. As we quickly learned, homelessness is a difficult topic to explore—mainly because the kids who deal with it are largely untraceable, moving from couch to couch or shelter to shelter, living beneath the radar. Through HMI, however, we met some amazing young people who’ve either struggled with housing, been a part of “the system” or have known people who have. Their stories gave us an intimate look at homelessness and the multitude of related issues LGBTQ youth face everyday.

Unfortunately, we only got to spend a few days filming with the HMI youth and counselors, so our project merely scratches at the surface of our country’s systemic and nationwide “epidemic” of gay youth homelessness. We hope that our efforts in New York will serve as springboard to a feature documentary in which we can give this topic the full attention it deserves.

It’s a subject worthy of a full documentary. For now, though, you can check out parts two and three in the series.

5 Comments

  1. T –> this is a subject area that I’ve never read about before. I appreciate you taking the time to share it with us. I regularly remind myself and others that we are usually only “one or two missed paychecks from being homeless ourselves”.

    Happy Memorial Day!
    Villager

  2. It feels so sur-real to be reading this at this moment. We just took all the boys out to pizza to celebrate the youngest’s birthday. The older two are gay and came to us from foster care. (We’ve parented three gay boys from foster care). I was worrying about the fact that we have had an empty bedroom for six months. If it is because all the kids are safe, that’s fine. But it is hard to believe that my very red state that’s the case. The older boys were reassuring me — it’s better now. Kids get support from their friends; social workers are all cool; foster parents “know better than to make a big deal about it.”

    My most recent call to the PFLAG cell phone was from a woman I had to hold back. She doesn’t understand why her fourteen-year-old son has only come out to a few people. She wants him to go to the LGBTQ youth group, should she make him go? Can I introduce him to gay men who could be good role models for him? Why doesn’t he appreciate that he has a supportive mom? (Answers: No. Yes. He does, but he’s fourteen.)

    So like I said, it’s surreal. I just spent a couple hours being reassured and then read this.

    I don’t disbelieve it, but I had thought it was getting better.

    At least a little.

  3. What irks me more than anything is this issue of parents just kicking their kids out because they are gay or lesbian.

    If a parent beats a child or fails to feed or clothe them, they can be charged with parental neglect and face criminal or civil penalties. Why then are parents allowed to abandon their underage lesbian and gay kids with no repercussions?

    Such parents need education and enlightenment so they will stop trying to force their lesbian and gay kids to be someone they can never be, and learn how to love them unconditionally.

  4. Unfortunately, I think in some cases there is no amount of education that will help. In the third video, a young woman talks about her religious upbringing and her parents religion-influenced reaction when she came out to them, complete with bible verses.

    My guess is that more than a few of these kids come from deeply religious families. Those parents will probably not change their minds,no matter what information they’re presented with if they are from the “God said it. I believe it. That settles it,” school of thought. Faith, in that case, overrides reason and/or evidence.

    Some of these kids were thrown out, but some also ran away because they’re parents made home unbearable for them.

  5. Coming out in a religious family is incredibly difficult. My mother and father hold their religious views very close to their hearts, and having their only son “come out” gay hasn’t made things much easier. Fortunately, they love me more than religious dogma, so I haven’t been excommunicated from the family. Although I feel that more pointless lecturing is on the way as my sexuality becomes more prominent.

    It is very unfortunate that people are so intolerant and hostile toward these youth, especially when they need nothing more than to be understood and consoled. I recently sat with a friend who had come over with his family. There was a young kid there, maybe six years old, who was cheering like a cheerleader. The friend commented that the boy would definitely turn out gay, then promptly went on to say that if his son ever turned gay, he would “beat the gayness out of him”. Needless to say, I was pissed, but found myself in a box, unable to respond as I wanted to.

    Something does need to be done to address this issue, even if it’s simply promoting awareness. Discrimination of any sort should not be tolerated, especially when (in this case) it often leads to homelessness, or an even worse “alternative”, suicide. This post has been a great read.

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