Homeless for the Holidays

By Carl Siciliano and Youths of the Ali Forney Center
Photos by Ocean Morisset

Family Rejection. Homelessness. These words, which describe phenomena that so disproportionately devastate the lives of LGBT youths, come across as grossly inadequate as I attempt to describe what I see every day at the Ali Forney Center. The words seem abstract, they communicate a sense of distance.

Hundreds of thousands of LGBT youths are experiencing an utter nightmare, an LGBT youth nightmare that stands as a stark rebuttal of our LGBT dream of freedom and equality. What a horror it is to see so many youths driven from their homes into terrifying destitution in the streets, while our adults gain access to freedom and acceptance unimaginable even 20 years ago.

I hope to give voice to LGBT youths so to give vivid immediacy to what their experiences of family rejection and homelessness mean, so that we might understand their plight, so that our LGBT community might wake up to our urgent moral obligation to be their advocates and protectors.

The cruelty and violence that so many LGBT youths experience in their homes cannot adequately be understood merely as rejection. I ask that we listen to them describe what they endured in their homes and reflect on the developmental trauma that results from having your sexual orientation and gender identity attacked by those who are supposed to nurture and protect you. These youths are not describing mere rejection; what they tell of might more accurately be labeled annihilation, abuse, vicious inhumanity. When we reflect that so many LGBT youths are driven to suicide by what they endure in their homes we might more accurately understand homophobic and transphobic family rejection as attempted homicide.

I further ask you to reflect on these youths' descriptions of their experiences homelessness. What they are describing seems to me to be more accurately described as terror. Try to absorb the terror they describe; terror of the police, terror of the dangers of the night -- of those who would hurt them and rob them, terror of their fragility -- of their own incapacity to cope with what they are enduring.

And it is important that we hear that they are all too often terrified of the conditions they find in shelters. How disturbing is it to realize that so many LGBT youths describe choosing to endure the terrors of sleeping in the streets because they are even more terrified of the conditions that they experience in mainstream shelters. If we are truly to respect the lived experiences of homeless LGBT youths we must face the obligation to become advocates, not merely for more youth shelter beds, but for the reformation of the dehumanizing warehouse conditions in which so many people are sheltered. Warehousing hundreds of homeless persons together inevitably creates conditions where LGBT youths are targeted for violence, abuse and exploitation. This is not a problem that will be solved by doing LGBT sensitivity trainings and hanging rainbow flags in warehouse shelters; we need to be advocates for smaller, more humane models of shelter where LGBT youth will be safer.

Most importantly I ask you to read and reflect on the actual testimony of homeless LGBT youths themselves, and contemplate the humanity in their faces, so compellingly photographed by Ocean Morisset.

PHOTO GALLERY
Homeless for the Holidays

I invite you to sign this petition if you are in the NYC region, calling for a commitment for safer shelter options for those LGBT youths who are left out in the cold.

And finally I invite you to explore how you might support the work of the Ali Forney Center, the nation's largest organization dedicated to homeless LGBT Youths. And I invite you to explore how you might support responses to homeless LGBT youths in your local area.

If enough of us are able to care about homeless LGBT youths; if we are able to give of our time, our resources, our engaged and thoughtful attention, we can bring this nightmare to an end.