Homeless Queer Youth

From the January-February 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Homeless Queer Youth

Chicago—About 30% of homeless youth in the U.S. are Queer. Many become homeless after being thrown out of their homes by families who reject them. And Queer youth are outing themselves at younger ages.

As homeless Queer youth Jeremiah Beaverly, who grew up in Wisconsin and Illinois, told NPR: “The day after my 18th birthday this year, my adopted parent kicked me out. I was really infatuated with this guy, and she was listening to my phone calls. She started telling my family, ‘He is this, he is that, he is gay,’ and talking about me as if I wasn’t part of the family.”

There is so much homophobia and transphobia that there is little assistance for Queer youth. They often are locked into a cycle of instability and poverty.

They are not safe in group homes. Many federally-run homes have long-established discrimination.

Zero, a homeless Gay youth in Utah, described street life to a Q Salt Lake reporter as dangerous and painful but homeless youth treat one another like family:

“We had been on the streets in one city for less than a week. I was hungry and hadn’t slept for days. I found another homeless youth who had some crackers. We found another who had half a gallon of milk. In no time, we had a small group of strangers gathered on a street corner, each offering what they had in their pockets.”

Queer homeless youth are more likely to be sexually assaulted, abuse alcohol and other drugs, suffer from depression, have unprotected sex and attempt suicide.

There are those taking actions to help:

• Writer and photographer Samantha Box has been documenting homeless Queer youth for seven years. Most recently she wrote of the Metropolitan Community Church’s Sylvia’s Place in New York City. Named for the Stonewall Rebellion’s heroine Sylvia Rivera, it is the only emergency shelter specifically for homeless Queer youth.

• The Atlantan Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in Atlanta, Ga., run a six-bedroom shelter, the Saint Lost & Found hotline, and a fund for homeless youth to get HIV/STD testing and counseling and to find safe haven.

• Singer Cyndi Lauper, together with West End Intergenerational Residence in New York City, opened the city’s first permanent residence specifically for Queer youth ages 8 to 24.

• Chicago’s Howard Brown Health Center runs the Broadway Youth Center. Counseling, GED and mentor programs, youth-led workshops, and medical services are among the programs offered for all young people aged 12 to 24, including the homeless.

Those doing day-to-day work with homeless Queer youth help show the kind of world that is possible: a world where all are regarded as truly human and treated as such, including getting the help they need.

—Elise Barclay

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