The LGBTQ community is often seen as a monolithic entity, with everyone working towards the same end goal. It’s certainly easy to think that way, since they’re united as a community by the marginalization they experience for their sexuality and gender expression. But that acronym itself shows the inaccuracy of that assumption. This community includes gay men and lesbians, who are linked by their homosexuality but often experience different, gender-specific forms of homophobia – for instance, while a gay man might be greeted with simple disgust and even violence by a straight man, a lesbian might instead be told that her homosexuality is “sexy” by the same man and find that he is sexually aggressive towards her despite her orientation or even because of it. Bisexuals often face marginalization in the LGBTQ community because their homosexual peers resent their option to “pass” for straight, or find that potential partners outright reject them for fear of not being able to fully satisfy them. The “queer” label that rounds out the acronym is itself an umbrella term for several other disparate groups who face similar problems in how they are treated by their society for their sexuality and gender identity; often “queer” is used as shorthand for these groups or even for the entire LGBTQ community, due to how many terms would need to be rattled off to mention all of them.
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]