Homeless LGBT need our support more than ever
Whoa... not so fast!
As the celebration of marriage equality winds down our community appears poised to pivot toward, and bring the primary focus of our formidable influence, to the fight for passage of the newly introduced Equality Act, which would provide more comprehensive protections against anti-LGBT discrimination than its predecessor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
It may seem the obvious course.
After all, as the saying goes, a gay or lesbian person can get married in the morning and fired in the afternoon...or refused a hotel room, be barred from senior housing, declined service in a restaurant, denied a joint auto loan, etc. However there is a need more urgent, one literally of life and death--namely homeless LGBT youth. The time is now that they be not just A priority at long last, but THE top priority moving forward.
Fully 20-40 percent of the approximately 1.5 million homeless youths in America identify as LGBT, based on numerous studies. Over the past almost two decades I have been engaged on this issue these dismal statistics have proven stubbornly resistant to change. Studies also show that a youth's LGBT identity is often a major contributing factor to becoming homeless, if not the cause altogether. Once homeless, LGBT youth face a myriad of risks, including: suicide, violence, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, prostitution, and substance abuse/dependence.
Greater access to LGBT specific and LGBT friendly services, with the necessary competencies and experience, are sorely needed. There are a number of amazing foundations and service organizations around the country, such as Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Foundation, the Ali Forney Center in NYC and Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco attempting to raise awareness and/or directly address the plight of homelessness among our youth. Yet these organizations have been de facto charged with the responsibility for addressing a crisis that in scope and scale is far beyond their resources and capabilities.
Marriage equality is just the latest on the list of our most consequential victories to date. However, most national level successes have been to the sole benefit of LGBT adults.
My life-partner, now husband, of sixteen years and I are no exception; our ability to be legally married and have our relationship recognized by the federal government has been a huge advantage to us personally.
But when community leaders and pundits discuss the work ahead in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges, I am disheartened at what I do not hear. Homeless LGBT youth rarely, if ever, rate a mention.
To be fair, our national leadership is not entirely AWOL. One example is the campaign to end anti-LGBT bullying which may help reduce a contributing factor toward homelessness among some LGBT youth. The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) is a complimentary effort to address bullying and equal opportunity in education. Another example is the advocacy around the Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act (RHYIA), which would help ensure that programs funded by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (which must be renewed) serve LGBTQ youth effectively and without discrimination.
We've all heard of ENDA and will be hearing much about the Equality Act, chances are the same cannot be said for SNDA or RHYIA. There is good reason for that. For all the gains they have labored hard to help secure, and for which they can be rightly proud, the professional activist class of our community has been ineffectual in advancing the cause of homeless LGBTQ youth. Furthermore, our national leadership has consistently failed to embrace a sense of urgency regarding the crisis, let alone respond accordingly.
This is shameful, especially when you consider the vast wealth, power, access and media profile that has been marshaled by our community in securing the aforementioned victories.
We cannot allow yet another decade to go by, or another generation of our youth to be lost to the streets. Our hard working professionals, top organizations and major contributors have proven they will go to the mat in fighting for our interests--when will our own homeless LGBT youth take precedence? Until they do, many will never get the chance to see manifest in their own lives the benefit of the gains we have made and have yet to make. Absent that top level commitment going forward, we will have to ask ourselves what kind of community we are, what kind of a people we have become, that amidst such tremendous success we neglect the most vulnerable among us.