In the past decade, the US has seen significant progress in LGBTQ rights. The most high-profile issue, that of same-sex marriage, has also seen the greatest gains: 35 states allow same-sex marriage outright, the remaining 15 states are awaiting action in the courts on the issue, and the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages as legal.[i] In an era where DOMA and DADT have been struck down, it would be easy to think that most of the work to be done on LGBTQ rights has been accomplished. However, the unfortunate truth is that these victories, while a great step forward, only affect gay and lesbian adults. For others in the community, and especially for queer youth, there are plenty more hardships to face, and far less national attention to support them.
In particular, homelessness is a huge problem for LGBTQ youth. It is perhaps unsurprising that young people in the queer community are most vulnerable to this problem. Sadly, despite making up a small percentage of the US population, a 2012 study found that as much as 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ.[ii] In a cruel twist of irony, the prominence of gay rights issues might even be contributing to the disproportionate number of gay youth on the streets; encouraged by seeing adults like them fighting for their civil rights, LGBTQ children are coming out far earlier than before, often well before gaining independence from their families.[iii] Since they often have little to no contact with the LGBTQ community, they have no support network to fall back on if their families should reject them, as families unfortunately often do. Consequently, the homeless population of this group is growing at a disturbing rate, and in 2012 94% of agencies reported working with LGBTQ youth, compared to 82% ten years earlier.[iv]
Worse yet, once they are on the streets, LGBTQ youth are still at greater risk than their heterosexual peers. A 2004 study found that nearly 59% of lesbian, gay and bisexual homeless youth reported suffering sexual victimization, compared to about 33% among homeless heterosexuals of the same age.[v] Another study found that sexual minority youth had higher rates of substance abuse and mental disorders than their heterosexual peers.[vi] Homeless LGBTQ youth in Canada have also reported engaging in survival sex more often, and were found to be three times as likely to do so than homeless heterosexuals.[vii] Perhaps it is little surprise, then, that they also are twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide.[viii]
The sad fact is that queer youth are a population intensely vulnerable to society’s various ills, and yet too often they are failed by the people who should care for them most, by their families and by the queer community in general. They face further discrimination and predation if they become homeless, and yet so often when speaking of gay rights, we forget the basic welfare of the next generation to come. Still, the problem is not insurmountable. For example, four of the five top reasons cited as barriers to serving LGBTQ youth relate to a lack of funding, which can be ameliorated through efforts like greater community support and leaning on lawmakers to make the issue a higher priority.[ix] Organizations like PFLAG also work to combat discrimination against LGBTQ youth, and to assist them in coming out to their families without having to face rejection and abandonment. Hopefully, by supporting such efforts, we can more effectively combat the epidemic of queer youth homelessness.
[ii] Durso, L.E., & Gates, G.J. (2012). Serving Our Youth: Findings from a National Survey of Service Providers Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth who are Homeless or At Risk of Becoming Homeless. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund and The Palette Fund.
[iii] United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, LGBT Youth Homelessness in Focus. Available at: http://usich.gov/issue/lgbt_youth/lgbtq_youth_homelessness_in_focus/, accessed 1/14/15.
[iv] Durso, L.E., & Gates, G.J. (2012). Serving Our Youth: Findings from a National Survey of Service Providers Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth who are Homeless or At Risk of Becoming Homeless. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund and The Palette Fund.
[v] Whitbeck, Les B.; Chen, Xiaojin; Hoyt, Dan R.; Tyler, Kimberly; and Johnson, Kurt D., "Mental Disorder, Subsistence Strategies, and Victimization among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Homeless and Runaway Adolescents" (2004). Sociology Department, Faculty Publications. Paper 53.
[vi] Bryan N. Cochran, Angela J. Stewart, Joshua A. Ginzler, and Ana Mari Cauce. Challenges Faced by Homeless Sexual Minorities: Comparison of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Homeless Adolescents With Their Heterosexual Counterparts. American Journal of Public Health: May 2002, Vol. 92, No. 5, pp. 773-777.
[vii] Gaetz, S. (2004). “Safe streets for whom? Homeless youth, social exclusion, and criminal victimization.” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 46(6).
[ix] Durso, L.E., & Gates, G.J. (2012). Serving Our Youth: Findings from a National Survey of Service Providers Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth who are Homeless or At Risk of Becoming Homeless. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund and The Palette Fund.
LGBT YOUTH HOMELESSNESS EPIDEMIC by UrbanSculpt Staff Writer Elektra Christensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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