When we as LGBT people have our “coming out,” it’s generally considered our own personal manumit. It’s meant to be a liberating moment that finally frees us from the slavery of pretending to be someone we’re not. While most of us are met with support from our families, friends, and/or the larger LGBT community, some are not as fortunate. For far too many LGBT youth, “coming out” results in their excommunication from their family and/or friends, leaving them alone to cope with what is already a difficult situation. Subsequently, many find themselves homeless and alone.
The homelessness of LGBT youth is not a new issue, and it has started to gain more notoriety thanks to celebrities like Cyndi Lauper and Wendy Williams who have espoused organizations that help homeless LGBT youth (Cyndi even started her own shelter for LGBT youth in Harlem called the True Colors Residence), but it has nonetheless reached epidemic status. For example, in New York City, it’s estimated that more than 40 percent of the 3,800 homeless youth are LGBT, yet there are only 250 city or state-funded youth shelter beds in the entire city. That’s 250 beds in our nation’s most populous city, a city with more than 22 million people.
Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, a NYC-based shelter for LGBT youth, just wrote an excellent article for The Huffington Post that astutely highlights the challenges homeless LGBT youth face. They’ve not only been deemed disposable by their families, but now struggle to survive on the streets, facing harassment, eviction, and the perceived need to sell their bodies just to make enough money for a morsel of food or to cheaply rent a place to stay for the night.
In Atlanta, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a non-profit group that dresses in drag as nuns and raises money for various LGBT causes, have organized Saint Lost and Found, a program designed to find immediate housing for homeless LGBT youth. Additionally, there’s the CHRIS Kids Rainbow Program, which “provides a safe and supportive residence for homeless and runaway gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.”
The plight of homeless youth in America is obviously not limited to LGBT youth, but LGBT youth in particular are at a much higher risk than their straight counterparts of finding themselves homeless. Many are kicked out of their homes simply for choosing to be themselves. While it’s encouraging that the issue is gaining a bit more national attention, it’s still an endemic that requires notice. It’s something that every person should be focusing on, but in particular the LGBT community. As a community, there is a certain obligation to help those in need.