Massachusetts is one of the nation’s LGBTQ-friendliest states in the country. And the state’s welcoming of us lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) citizens is evident throughout many of its private and public institutions, such as churches, businesses, workplaces, schools, colleges and universities, to name a few.
However, according to a new study from Boston’s Children’s Hospital, published online July 21 on the American Journal of Public Health website, when it comes to the private institution of the home, our LGB youth are disproportionately thrown out of theirs than their heterosexual peers.
While homelessness of teen and youth populations are often attributed to family neglect, family tragedy, poverty, AIDS, drug abuse, eviction, or being aged out of foster care, our LGBT teen and youth populations that are homeless are, first and foremost, if not solely, because of their sexual orientation. And sadly, it sends a message that these homes would rather have no child than a queer child.
“The high risk of homelessness among sexual minority teens is a serious problem requiring immediate attention,” says Heather Corliss, PhD, MPH, of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital. “Teens with a sexual minority orientation are more likely than heterosexual teens to be unaccompanied and homeless rather than part of a homeless family…. These teens face enormous risks and all types of obstacles to succeeding in school and are in need of a great deal of assistance.”
Data from the 2005 and 2007 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS), which surveyed 6,317 Massachusetts public high school students in grades 9 through 12, reveal the following:
Overall, less than 5 percent of students identified as GLB, yet they made up 19 percent of those identifying as homeless.
Homelessness among heterosexual students came in at 3.2 percent. This rate increased to 15 percent among bisexual students, and 25 percent among lesbian/gay students.
Homelessness among those unsure of their sexual orientation was also disproportionately high at 20 percent.
Fifteen percent of male teens identifying as gay were unaccompanied by parents/guardians, while just 8 percent were homeless but living with a parent.
Among girls identifying as lesbian, 22.5 percent were homeless without parental or guardian supervision. Similar trends were found for bisexuals and those unsure of their sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, not assessed in the study is homelessness of the state’s transgender population. However, previous studies have shown that this population is at an even greater risk than its LGT homeless youth, especially in communities of color.
According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force report, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness” released in June 2006, family conflict over a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity is the primary cause. And because of a lesser intolerance for bisexual and transgender youth, they are disproportionately at a higher risk of becoming homeless.
As a matter of fact, in June 2006, the Ali Forney Center (AFC), in NYC, 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.”
Ali Forney, for whom the center is named, was an African American transgender known as “Luscious” and was also a throw-away. And like many throw-aways Forney earned his living as a prostitute. However, once stabilized with a roof over his head Forney spent his remaining years dedicating his time helping his peers. But on a cold wintry December night in 1997, at 4 a.m., a still-unidentified assailant murdered Forney. Like most bisexual and transgender youth they don’t expect to live a long and fruitful life.
“I believe that one day, the Lord will come back to get me. Hallelujah…. all my trials and tribulations, they will all be over. I won’t have to worry about crying and suffering no more…. because my god, hallelujah is coming back for me.” Forney recited at his favorite event of the year: Talent Night at Safe Space, a program homeless youth in NYC.
“Given that our resources are tight & these youth are not at all psychologically prepared for our liberation struggle, they are expendable. Such are the realities of war. It’s gonna take all of our resources to salvage the heterosexual youth, who will hopefully form strong, loving, heterosexual relationships & produce healthy children. This is how we will produce a strong black nation/community. The dysfunctional youth you are asking us to rescue cannot/will not be able to make the contribution we need, so they are expendable.”
When we don’t accept the belief that all of human life is of equal worth, but rather promulgate the mean-spirited notion that some of us are expendable, then those most at risk and at the margins will always be deemed as society’s throw-aways.
Rev. Irene Monroe