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 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) 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 LGBTQ, 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 LGBTQ identity is often a major contributing factor to becoming homeless, if not the cause altogether. Once homeless, LGBTQ youth face a myriad of risks, including: suicide, violence, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, prostitution, and substance abuse/dependence.
Greater access to LGBTQ specific and LGBTQ- 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.