Queer homeless youth are OUR youth: Pride involves embracing them

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June 6, 2014

By Frank McAlpin, West Hollywood, California

Frank McAlpin, a social worker and homeless youth advocate asks us all an important question as we gird for celebration in Queer homeless youth are OUR youth: Pride involves embracing them

As we in Los Angeles prepare for one of the largest and most spectacular Gay Pride Parades in the nation, there is much to celebrate.  We are experiencing unprecedented progress in the LGBT rights movement.  From the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country, to the acceptance of openly gay professional athletes, to greater visibility and inclusion of LGBT folks in media and politics.  Yes, there is much to fete!

Much has happened in the past year to give the LGBT community hope that one day all will be treated equally under the law.

Much has happened in the past year to give the LGBT community hope that one day all will be treated equally under the law.

Yet with all this GAY excitement and celebration, we must not overlook the hundreds of young people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles every night.

It is estimated that in the US a half a million youth are homeless, about 40 percent of these youth identify as LGBTQ.  And it is believed that Los Angeles is home to the most young people in country experiencing homelessness.

There are numerous reasons as to why LGBT youth become homeless at a higher rate than straight kids, including abuse, neglect, poverty and homophobia.  Often times LGBTQ youth are not physically or emotionally safe in their homes and communities, due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.  They leave home in search of a more affirming and supportive space to be who they are.

The lucky ones find their way to West Hollywood or the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Los Angeles Youth Network, My Friends Place or Covenant House California. 

The addicts WeHo has, "range from most chronic and severe mentally ill homeless that we see wandering around the Robertson [Boulevard] corridor to working alcoholics and addicts, people who are able to maintain a job and a life yet have a deep dark secret about their alcohol and drug use," says WeHo council member John Duran.

The addicts WeHo has, “range from most chronic and severe mentally ill homeless that we see wandering around the Robertson [Boulevard] corridor to working alcoholics and addicts,” says WeHo council member John Duran.

For the rest and for whatever reason those youth became homeless in the first place, their daily reality is almost impossible to imagine.

It is a reality of constant hunger and exhaustion.

Of violence and exploitation.

Of rejection and stigma.

For many homeless youth each day is just about survival.

The realities that homeless youth experience impact every facet of their life, including employment prospects, education and physical and mental health.

What must it be like to add to the already deep stigma of being queer in a homophobic culture the extreme stresses of homeless.

What must it be like to add to the already deep stigma of being queer in a homophobic culture the extreme stresses of homeless.

When trying to imagine these realities I can’t help but think, what kind of community allows young people, some already marginalized because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression to be homeless? To have no safe and supportive space to live and grow into the beautiful individuals they are?

Our collective acceptance of youth homelessness in OUR community is not something we can be proud of.  It is an injustice so horrific it diminishes our entire community.  And its existence overshadows the very equality the LGBT rights movement is achieving today.

Photo by Gilbert Weingourt.

Photo by Gilbert Weingourt.

These homeless youth, many of whom identify as LGBTQ, are our youth.  We, as an LGBT community and more broadly as a nation, must care for these youth.

We must recognize them. Talk with them.  Fight for them.

For these young people represent all that is beautiful and possible in our community.

They are our future.

Youth experiencing homelessness, LGBT or not, want the same things we all want.  To be safe, respected, supported and loved.  And isn’t that what Pride is really all about?

So as we gather in West Hollywood this June to throw glitter and celebrate our Pride, let us also commit to ending youth homelessness.  Let us ensure that all homeless youth feel safe, respected, supported and loved.  And that we all come to know the true meaning of PRIDE.

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Frank McAlpin, social worker and homeless youth advocate | @FrankMcTalk

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