Advocates Attend White House Conference on Homeless LGBT Youth
Prominent leaders in the fight against homelessness among LGBT youth gathered in Detroit on Friday to attend a White House conference on the subject.
Hosted in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Detroit-based Ruth Ellis Center; the conference featured a panel that included Ruth Ellis Center executive director Laura Hughes, Ali Forney Center executive director Carl Siciliano and Theresa Nolan, director of LGBT youth programs at Green Chimneys in New York City.
"Having this event here was historic in many ways," said Hughes, whose organization is the Midwest’s only center that specifically serves LGBT youth. "It was powerful to have [HUD Secretary Shaun] Donovan talk about homelessness among LGBT youth. And to be on a panel with Carl and Theresa was incredible; they are doing such great work."
Hughes added she was heartened that this event took place in Michigan-a state that has yet to add sexual orientation or gender identity and expression to its anti-discrimination law, second-parent adoptions or marriage to same-sex couples.
"There is a laundry list of things we don’t have, so to have the Ruth Ellis Center here and to find at this conference how that pairs with the federal focus on LGBT rights was really good," said Hughes, who added that the conference sent a strong message that this activism is not exclusive to New York City, San Francisco and other East and West Coast cities
Nolan, a Michigan native herself, agreed.
"Typically, only the East or West Coast cities highlight these issues, but in fact, there is great stuff happening in other places-that we were having a federal conversation here about LGBT housing issues can only shed an important spotlight on the fact that disenfranchised people, especially LGBT youth, are experiencing layers of trauma on top of each other," she said. "We as a society don’t want to keep disenfranchising them; it is our responsibility not to have roadblocks."
In his remarks on which EDGE previously reported, Donovan noted that roughly seven percent of American youth identify as LGBT. Of those who are homeless, more than 40 percent are LGBT.
"LGBT youth experience more acts of sexual violence, are more at risk for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, and are more likely to become depressed than their heterosexual counterparts," said Donovan. "Perhaps most troubling of all, the majority of young people surveyed report harassment, difficulty, or even sexual assault when trying to access homeless shelters-the very places where they should start to feel safe. Allowing this to happen is not only wrong-it’s also not who we are as Americans. All of us-regardless of our sexual orientation, race, gender, or gender identity-deserve a place to call home."
Siciliano was grateful that HUD and the Obama administration have recognized homelessness among LGBT youth as a problem. During his early work with the Safe Space NYC drop-in program in 2001, Siciliano noted that the Bush administration cut funding once it discovered the initiative served LGBT youth.
"One day they heard LGBT, and it was like I had pulled out a crucifix in front of vampires," he said. Siciliano added that the Bush administration either denied or revoked the contracts of the Ruth Ellis Center and other groups that had applied for federal grants to serve LGBT people.
While getting federal recognition was an important first step, Siciliano stressed the next hurdle is finding a way to fund beds for the thousands of gay youth stranded every night on park benches.
Siciliano: National LGBT Organizations Need to Show Strong Leadership
Siciliano said the problem rests not only with the federal government, but with the larger LGBT community. While advocacy groups have prioritize marriage equality and the repeal of ’don’t ask, don’t tell,’ Siciliano stressed they have not focused enough on the problem of homeless LGBT youth.