(GayWebSource.com) Los Angeles, CA December 13, 2013 Yes, I know, life is tough all around but, believe me, the life of homeless LGBT youths is much tougher.
I learned of the living hell that is the existence of homeless LGBT youths while doing research for my independent film, A Place Called Home which is inspired by LGBT homeless kids.
Like most, I had, at most, half a clue. Common sense tells us that being homeless at any age ain’t easy. But, what I learned left me flabbergasted.
I thought I knew how heartless people can be when it comes to the LGBT community.
Right off the bat, I received an email from Patricia who didn’t beat around the bush. She wanted to know if the film I was doing research for “supported the gay lifestyle”. My heartfelt answer to her was “I support loving others the way I hope to be loved and treating others the way I hope to be treated — which is the way man’s humanity to man should be. No matter what your sexuality is, the least we should be able to hope for, the very least, is the love of our family.” It must’ve been something I said because that was the last I heard from her.
At the time, truth be known, I could’ve cared less. I’d spoken my truth. Looking back, I wish I’d had been able to maintain a dialogue with her. Who knows what good would’ve come of it.
A friend asked if I was sure I wanted to keep going because Patricia wouldn’t be the only one who felt that way. Quitting wasn’t an option.
Part of my research consisted of emailing politicians here in the US, the UK, Australia and Canada to ask what their LGBT youth homelessness policies and initiatives were. I wanted to hear straight from the horse’s mouth what they were doing to help these kids.
Charities and individuals do amazing work, but they can’t do it all.
Disappointingly, the response most offered was “we support marriage equality.” How does the legal right to get married help the homeless LGBT kid who is just looking for a safe place to sleep for the night? It doesn’t. A not so clever dodge to cover the fact they had no answer or policy initiatives.
My friend was right. Patricia wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Several of the emailed responses I received in return just floored me.
Jim Savage, National Leader of Australia’s One Nation party, asked me to “tell me what exactly is a LGBTQ youth! I am afraid I have never heard of this before.” This from the leader of a party that declares itself to be “the voice of the people”. What people, I wondered. I gave the obvious answer – Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Questioning young people up to the age of 23 – and offered to answer any questions he might have.
He thanked me and let me know that “One Nation, which is a nation wide political party does not have any discriminatory policies. We do not have any policies which single anyone out on the basis of their gender or orientation. Being gay is not special, it is just gay. There should be no special exceptions made because of it. ”
My reaction was “He must be kidding.” He wasn’t. He was dead serious.
I politely let him know that he was uneducated about LGBTQ homeless youths in his own country and gave him a few statistics, and I did my level best to explain to him that special rights are not equal rights. I’m afraid to no avail. You can lead a horse to water…
I next heard from Mr. “Ian fucken J” Nelson, State Director, One Nation Queensland. Yes, that is how he signed off on the email in which he referred to me as f***head except he spelled out the word. No stars for him.
His response: “Just email these f*** heads back and tell them that that their ignorance is breath-taking! We don’t need nor tolerate this behaviour!” I had to ask “What sort of behavior do you find so hard to tolerate? Expecting fair and equal treatment for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation and holding those who feel discrimination is perfectly acceptable accountable for their actions or inaction (i.e. the lack of legislative initiatives to ensure this equality).”
Mr. “Ian fucken J” Nelson made it quite clear that he and his One Nation party “don’t care much for gays”.
They have no idea what life as a homeless LGBTQ teen is like. As I told Mr. Savage, he and his voice of the people party “are more than happy to leave them to their own devices – often to die in the streets – while you act holier than thou and make your uninformed decisions with regard to their lives.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Savage and Mr. “Ian fucken J” Nelson would feel differently if they had a clearer picture of what life is like for LGBT homeless kids – if they knew what I now know.
Their initial step to becoming homeless is when they own who they are and come out to those who should love them unconditionally. Probably after years of hearing “be yourself”. What do you wanna bet they weren’t told “so long as your self is straight”? …their first live and learn lesson.
I now know 40% of homeless youths are LGBT. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute estimate that to be 600,000 or more homeless youths across our great country.
A study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found 46% run away because their families reject them, and 43% are actually shown the door by their parents. 32% leave in order to escape physical, emotional or sexual abuse. 14% encounter financial or emotional neglect from their family.
Do they just stay on streets? Not all of the time. Some go to temporary shelters also known as another fresh hell or trading one hell for another. Take your pick.
When not being turned away at the shelter door because of their sexuality or finding a shelter that doesn’t have a waiting list for a bed, you’d think not having to spend another night sleeping on the street would be a good thing.
Wrong. They are much more likely to be victims of violent attacks including rape in a shelter than straight homeless kids. The infuriating thing is most shelter staff either won’t or don’t know how to meet their needs.
Studies show that a significant percentage of homeless LGBT kids would rather sleep on the street than go to a shelter.
So, who has their back?
Here in the US, Rep. Moore (D-Wis.) and Rep. Pocan (D-Wis.) introduced a bill to support LGBT homeless youth – Runaway & Homeless Youth Inclusion Act. It’ll amend the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act to prohibit discrimination against LGBT youth at homeless shelters that receive government funds and requires grant recipients to have the skills to actually provide the needed help.
In 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded the largest grant ever to an LGBT organization, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, to fight discrimination against LGBT kids in the foster care system and, in the same year, the current administration released America’s first overall plan to prevent and end homelessness that includes homeless LGBT youth.
Sarah Hanson-Young, Senator of the South Australian Greens party provided me with their policy on equality for LGBTIQ Australians that includes a proposal to double the current funding for specialist homelessness services in Australia.
The other side of that coin is Nick Clegg, the UK Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr. Clegg stated in a very recent interview that “I’m glad to be a part of a government fighting for LGBT rights”.
I wonder what his reaction would be if he knew Sarah Harding, Chairperson of Liberal Youth the Youth and Student Group of the Liberal Democrats (LibDem) and Richard Barnes, the former LGBT Deputy Mayor of London and member of the right-wing Conservative Party (Tory) have confirmed to me, in the words of Mr. Barnes, there are “no specific policies for LGBT youth with regard to housing or anything else”.
Ms. Harding owes the policy absence on the Localism Act which puts the onus of LGBT homeless youth housing square on the local councils with absolutely no oversight by Parliament and no minimum standards or guidelines.
Since each Local Council determines their priorities and guidelines, what guarantees are there that all local councils do as much as possible? Hypothetically, if everyone is left to their own devices, it is quite possible that Local Council A may do a great deal while Local Council B does very little. And, what protection do these kids have once they are in a shelter?
Ms. Harding informed me that “Local authority, in principle, should have initiatives to ensure LBGTQ youth are not oppressed within their shelters. Charities and religious groups undertake this as a moral principle, however there is (to my knowledge) no law or statute that ensures they must do this.”
The Localism Act states “Each English housing authority must have an “allocation scheme” for determining priorities. Reasonable preference should be given to groups such as the homeless and those living in insanitary conditions but otherwise housing authorities may themselves decide who to support and the conditions of support. People subject to immigration control cannot be supported. The authorities’ duty to homeless people, who are not intentionally homeless, now ceases if they refuse reasonable accommodation. The authorities’ duty to homeless people, who are not intentionally homeless, now ceases if they refuse reasonable accommodation.”
Reasonable preference? Reasonable accommodation? Given there is no oversight and no guidelines or minimum standards specific to LGBT homeless kids, what assurances do these kids have that their needs will be met – especially in the case of transgender kids.
Let’s face it, by allowing local councils to determine policy with no oversight by Parliament and no minimum standards and guidelines ensures there is no consistency in the services available to homeless LGBTQ youth and no guarantee of protection in shelters should one be available.
What can they expect in the form of help when the area they are homeless in is extremely conservative or poor? Very, very little I would say.
It seems to me that Parliament and the Coalition Government have simply passed the buck to Local Councils under the cover of the Localism Act – an initiative that was passed while the Coalition Government of which Mr. Clegg is a member was in power.
Mr. Clegg may be a part of a government fighting for LGBT rights – just not the rights of LGBT homeless kids.
The guts it must take to leave the only home you’ve ever known with nowhere to go.
As hard as I try, I just can’t imagine it. Can you?
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