“Home is the place,” Robert Frost famously said, “That when you go there, they have to take you in.” But what happens when they won’t? What happens when you are fifteen and your family throws you out because you tell them you are gay? On Our Radar this week, “Homeless for the Holidays,” a project by the Ali Forney Center, a New York City homeless shelter and the leading advocacy group for homeless LGBT youth. Their objective is to focus attention on the desperate need to rescue the estimated 1600 LGBT youth living on the cold winter streets of New York.
Say the word “homeless” and the natural inclination is to think of someone who lacks money. This is America, after all. We judge everyone in terms of dollars. It allows the “Take a bath and get a job” Newt Gingriches of the world to think of poverty and homelessness as personal failures. But if Robert Frost is correct, “homelessness” for most of those 1600 struggling young LGBT souls, is more about lacking love than lacking money. And the reason they aren’t loved? It’s simply because they were born LGBT. When you begin to see them as victims of a family who couldn’t overcome their bigotry even for their own child, it becomes clear their homelessness isn’t a failure of character but the result of a profound human tragedy.
Last October, On Our Radar profiled psychologist David Heubner for his documentary film “Lead With Love,” aimed at easing families of LGBT children through the coming out process. What sticks with me from that column is Dr. Heubner’s warning to families. After ten years of research, he found that the way a parent reacts to his child being gay is the greatest predictor of whether or not that child is able to lead a happy, productive life.
I thought of Dr. Heubner’s research this week when I came across a staggering statistic; a number so out of whack I thought it had to be a typo. Of the estimated 3800 homeless young people in New York City, 40% are LGBT. Forty. Four-zero. How can that possibly be? “Homeless for the Holidays” explains how, one story at a time. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the month of December, the photo and story of one of these struggling young people will be featured on The Ali Fourney Center website. As the educational outreach component of their larger “Campaign for Youth Shelters” the center is hoping to touch hearts (and wallets) by putting a human face on the lives behind these staggering numbers.
When I say staggering, it is not hyperbole. Try this number on for size; for the estimated 3800 homeless youths in New York City, there are 250 beds. No, I didn’t leave off a zero. Twenty-five hundred beds would still be a colossal failure, leaving more than a thousand at risk youths to fend for themselves on the streets. But the number stands at 250, and to add insult to injury, the city of New York recently cut its funding for youth beds by 50%.
By introducing some of the diverse people behind those jaw dropping statistics, “Homeless for the Holidays” hopes to enlist New Yorkers to persuade Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Cuomo, and the New York State Legislature to increase the budget enough to add a hundred new youth beds a year. If your reaction is a sarcastic “Hallelujah! If the pols agree, in a mere 38 years the problem will be solved,” you have correctly analyzed the situation. Private sector charities need to take notice.
There is a better solution, of course. Change hearts. Change minds. Change society until it is a front-page oddity whenever a parent rejects a child for his sexual orientation. Make it socially unacceptable. Make it the mark of a bad parent. A neglectful parent. An abusive parent. Make such bigotry within one’s own family a mark of shame.
We are all going to need to keep working on that.
Meanwhile, the kids these families threw away need help. And that’s why “Homeless for the Holidays” is On Our Radar.
(Image via Facebook by Cathy Renna taken at a December 2010 protest re: funding cuts to LGBT homeless youth.)
Jean Ann Esselink is straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
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