Maybe it’s my experience growing up with so many immigrants in my life, but I’ve always been a big believer in the idea that each generation has a duty to help make life easier for the next one. The idea was amplified when I became a father. I honestly believe it’s how the LGBTQ+ community has advanced our rights so dramatically in the 50 or so years since the Stonewall Riots – an event we’ll be commemorating in a few weeks with parades and festivals.
Whereas I think those brave queens would be very happy with how far we’ve come, I also think they’d be very disappointed in us. We’re not always protecting nor helping queer youth.
According to a research brief by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, LGBTQ+ youth have a disproportionately higher rate of homelessness. HRC estimates that up to 40 percent of the unaccompanied homeless youth population is LGBTQ+. In fact, they’re more than twice as likely to experience homelessness as their straight peers. Even more appalling, Black LGBTQ+ youth report the highest rates of homelessness – twice that of both gay white kids and straight Black kids, and an astonishing four times greater than straight white kids.
LGBTQ+ kids experiencing homelessness also face some horrific adversity compared to straight kids forced to live on the streets. Nearly two-thirds say they’ve been exposed to discrimination or stigma within their own families compared to just over one-third of straight kids. Queer homeless youth are more than twice as likely than their straight peers to have been forced to have sex (38 percent compared to 15 percent) and exchanged sex for basic needs three times as often as straight kids (27 percent versus 9 percent). More than 60 percent of these young people have been physically harmed by someone else, and perhaps most horrifying, a full 25 percent have admitted to harming themselves.
There are myriad reasons why young LGBTQ+ youth end up on the streets – leading the way is family rejection because of the kid’s sexual orientation or gender identity. I cannot fathom how deeply one’s hate must run to throw your own child out of your home because of whom they love. Other kids flee from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Still, some age out of the foster care system (a problem for gay and straight kids alike) and have nowhere else to go. And then there’s financial and emotional neglect they face growing up.
Youth.gov, a U.S. government website dedicated to helping create, maintain, and strengthen youth programs, suggests that homeless shelters may not be the best choice for queer youth. While staying in a shelter, these kids may face harassment, abuse, and stigmatization from other homeless people and staff alike. They may even be asked to leave the shelter because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Think about that. First, these kids were thrown out of their homes by their “loving” parents, and then they were thrown out of a “safety net” shelter by people supposedly working to help others.
The Chapin Hill brief argues that there are steps that can be taken to help alleviate the problem. They’re all geared toward institutional solutions – training providers, gathering better data, and locating services and housing options more equitably.
But I can’t help but think those lovely ladies from the Stonewall Inn wouldn’t sit back and wait for institutions to act on their own accord. We need to demand more. We need to start fighting for a better life for these kids. It’s time we start fighting like it’s Stonewall all over again.
You can learn more about LGBTQ+ youth homelessness and read the Chapin Hill brief at voicesofyouthcount.org