The holiday season is a difficult time of year many of us.
Our culture’s egregious forms of commercialism always bother me -- and its anemic recognition of other celebratory forms of this holiday season other than Christmas, like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and the celebration of the winter solstice.
Too often we see the glitz and glamor that this holiday brings and we have totally missed its spiritual message.
And because much of the spiritual aspects of this season are lost, so too, by too many of us, is the gift of giving to the neediest in our communities. In my community, one of the neediest is our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) homeless youth and young adults.
And, unfortunately, our LGBTQ homeless youth and young adults face the annual angst of searching for home for the holidays.
"I'm Queer. I'm Homeless. I'm Hungry. I'm Scared. I'm Tired," is the ad put out this year by New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth asking us to give the gift of $10 this holiday season to help our homeless.
"Every night, thousands of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender youth and young adults are homeless in New York City. Whether they have been kicked out by homophobic families, forced to flee conservative communities, aged out of foster care, or come from families torn apart by poverty, AIDS, drug abuse or eviction, these youth sleep in the City’s parks, on the subway, and in public facilities such as Port Authority and Penn Station," New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth website reminds us.
New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth is based in New York city and was founded in October 2008 by a group of volunteers and professionals with experience working with homeless LGBTQ youth in various shelter and transitional housing settings. And they are always looking for our help and gift-giving annually, but especially around the holidays.
This Thanksgiving, New Alternatives' youth and volunteers attended a dinner at Tom Colicchio’s Craft restaurant in New York City, and they had an opportunity to meet actress Julianne Moore, who was also volunteering at the event.
This year, the New Alternatives Team is asking the community to "Be a Gay Santa!" They are looking for 150 Santas for this holiday season to receive a letter written by a homeless LGBTQ youth requesting a gift (requests are limited to items of $100 in value or less).
Our LGBTQ homeless youth and young adults have been out on the streets for decades that the problem is currently epidemic, and showing no signs of abating.
In 2006, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition for the Homeless released a report that found that up to 42 percent of the nation’s homeless youth identify as lesbian or gay. That means, of New York City’s estimated 15,000 to 30,000 homeless youth population of that year, about 6,300 to 12,600 are LGBTQ, and approximately 90 percent within this group comprise of African American and Latino youth.
As a matter of fact, in June 2006 the Ali Forney Center (AFC), in New York city, the nation's largest LGBTQ youth homeless services center, aggressively launched an advertising campaign asking the simple question: "Would you stop loving your child if you found out they were gay or lesbian?" Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, stated, "Our goal was to address the rising rate of LGBT youth homelessness, particularly in communities of color."
And despite the fact these kids looked to their Christian churches for help these youth have neither a chance nor a prayer for assistance.
Although this holiday season, for Christians, is mostly thought of in terms of feasting and celebrating Jesus' birth, let's not forget that Jesus’ birth comes at difficult time along the human timeline for acceptance. Viewed as a religious threat to conservative Jews because of his iconoclastic views and practice of Jewish Law, and viewed as a political threat to the Roman government simply because he was a Jew, Jesus was nailed to a cross at Calvary because of ethnic and religious intolerance.
Similarly, when I think of the birth of Jesus in light of how Christians celebrate this holiday season, one of the themes that looms large for me is LGBTQ homelessness.
Because many of our LGBTQ youth, myself included as once a homeless youth, do not really have a home to go to where they can sit at the family table and be fully out -- or if out, fully accepted. As with Mary and Joseph, Jesus' parents, during the time of his birth who traveled from inn to inn to only find there was no welcome space for them, LGBTQ youth live nomadic street lives, traveling from place to place to sadly find out there is neither room nor space nor home nor family to be permanently welcome them into.
Unfortunately, many of our homeless LGBTQ youth and young adult across this country this holiday season will not have a queer-friendly shelter to go to. And too many will spend the time alone even where homeless LGBTQ shelters across the country will be open because they gravely miss their families and communities- and especially around this holiday.
As we gear up for this holiday season let us enjoy the time. Let us make home, if not with biological family, then certainly with beloved friends. But let us also not forget the continued struggle of the LGBTQ homeless youth and young adults searching for home for the holidays.
Rev. Irene Monroe