Depending on who you ask, homeless LGBTQ youth may or may not exist.
According to AM radio host Linda Harvey, homeless LGBTQ youth do exist, but not because their parents kicked them out. Rather, they exist because the teens stormed out in a tantrum of sorts:
“The teen storms out by choice and leaves voluntarily because the homosexual relationship is more important than that of his or her parents.
“And when that all-important relationship ends, the teen is too stubborn or already too involved in alcohol or drugs or the premature independence of the homosexual life and he or she would rather drift than return home.
“I’ve heard [it] far too often.”
I bet you have, Linda.
And if you turn to statistics, well, statistics say there are homeless youth, but finding absolute numbers is exceedingly difficult. A federal study in 2002 claims that there are 1.7 million homeless youth each year. And a study done in 2006 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition to End Homelessness states that anywhere from 20 to 40% of all homeless youth are queer.
If those numbers are correct, then that means that roughly 680,000 homeless youth are queer.
To say that 680,000 queer youth are out on the streets by their own choice, of their own volition is not only preposterous, but it completely discredits any struggles and pain experienced by these kids. Yes, Linda, you may have heard of such instances, but I can assure you from experience, that kids are kicked out of their homes because who they are goes against the grain of who the parents want that child to be.
I should know. It happened to me. I’ll never forget my mom’s reaction when I came out to her.
“Not in this house. Not around my daughter.” In thirty seconds, my mom had absolutely crushed me as a human being.
“Not in this house.” Because my announcement of being a lesbian somehow suddenly tainted the house I grew up in.
“Not around my daughter.” Because my sin was so great it could reflect on the successes of my sister; therefore the only plausible solution was to disown me.
And I found myself without a home. Fortunately, I’ve managed to make it (somewhat) on my own since then. But not everyone is so lucky. The kids being put on the streets don’t have the life skills to always pull themselves out. There are resources out there, but honestly, who pays attention to the homeless? We see panhandlers out on street corners, with signs saying they need money for food, and we draw our own conclusions as to why they’re on the corner, and more often than we’d like to admit, we either turn away in disgust or do our best to focus on that red light, waiting impatiently for it to change so we can drive away and leave that awkward uncomfortable feeling behind.
But how often do we see kids standing on street corners?
“Gay and homeless, please help.” That’s one sign I’ve never seen.
Are these kids able to get some kind of education? Do they eat regularly? Have they succumbed to drugs and alcohol and prostitution to cope? What kind of a chance do these kids have to succeed?
And who is helping them?
Groups like the 40 to None Project, spearheaded by Cyndi Lauper and an offshoot of her True Colors Fund, bring awareness to the fact that there is a hugely disproportionate number of homeless queer youth. And there are homes out there, like The Ozone House in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Streetwork Project through Safe Horizion, in New York.
But there needs to be more awareness. These safe houses are in big cities where the homeless population is high and has high visibility. What about places like my hometown? I know there’s homeless here. I’ve seen them, but where are the kids?
And then there’s the intangible number of those kids that are afraid to come out because they don’t want to end up on the streets. Linda Harvey had something to say about that, too. She feels that queer youth shouldn’t come out to everyone, and basically should stay closeted until they can be straight.
(Keep in mind this is the same woman that says Jesus may be forced to marry a man when he comes back to Earth.)
So these kids struggle daily with an alter-ego of sorts, pretending to be someone they’re not because of a fear of losing their family, their friends, their home. I know what that’s like too. Before I came out, I was going down to the gay nightclubs and had to make up stories as to where I was really going.
Mom: “So where are you headed tonight?”
Me: “Oh, out to the club.”
Mom: “Which one? And with whom?”
Me: “Oh, The Crush. And I’m going with Stephanie (who actually did exist) and some guys from work. Mark, John, Paul, Peter.”
Eventually I was going down to the bar with the 12 Apostles and George Glass. That was when it was time for me to stop pretending. But I played that game for a while before it became too overwhelming for me. I’m a facilitator for the local LGBTQ youth group here, sponsored by our LGBTQ resource center. I’ve only been to two meetings so far, but it’s really opened my eyes.
For instance, the group wants to make a float for our Pride parade. Some of the kids are so afraid of being outed that they say they can’t work on the float. Others spend their time looking over their shoulders, as if everyone they’re afraid of knowing the truth about them are standing outside, peering in through the windows. This is unacceptable. These kids have enough to worry about as teenagers without having to add a queer catalyst to the equation.
“Not in this house.” These are words that these kids should never have to hear. To be told their own blood doesn’t see them as human or equal or acceptable – I can’t change the hateful actions of those parents, but I can offer shelter and guidance to those kids who are either already on the streets or at risk of being on the streets if they are true to themselves.
I’m working on creating a nonprofit organization, so I can establish a safe house here in my hometown for these kids. I’m calling on you for help with this. Because I’m pretty sure that those who read my blog and whom I call friends would never ever turn their kids away if they came out of the closet.
These queer youth deserve a chance to succeed. They deserve to be who they are, to explore who they are, without fear of feeling unloved and rejected.
When someone says, “Not in my house…”
I want to be able to say, “Welcome home.”
Edit: Here’s a related story, definitely worth reading…
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