Thursday, June 24, 2010

On the Streets: The Federal Response to Gay and Transgender Homeless Youth

Every child deserves a supportive and loving home. But for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children and youth, that home is not available.* Gay and transgender youth are disproportionately represented among homeless youth in our country, experiencing extreme rates of violence, discrimination, and poor health while homeless.
This is happening at least partly because gay and transgender people are coming out at younger ages as society becomes increasingly supportive of equality. Twenty years ago, most people started coming out in their 20s, well after most had left home and started working. If someone’s family rejected them for being gay or transgender, it may have been emotionally painful, but the person could still likely take care of himself or herself.
Today, the usual coming out age is in the mid-teen years, when youth still depend on their families to meet their material needs and are particularly vulnerable if their family outright rejects them. For gay and transgender youth in these situations, family rejection can lead to a chain reaction of events that sends them cascading through social safety nets that are not equipped to support them.
Indeed, too many youth who come out are rejected by their families, harassed and victimized in schools, discriminated against in out-of-home care facilities, and brutalized in homeless shelters. They often resort to criminal activity, such as theft or “survival sex” in order to survive. The high rates of rejection, violence, and institutional discrimination combined with hostile school environments and social prejudice lead to an over-representation of gay and transgender youth among the homeless youth population.
The federal government can and should do more to respond to this problem. Of the approximately $4.2 billion the government spends annually on homeless assistance programs, less than 5 percent of this funding, $195 million, is allocated for homeless children and youth. Even less actually goes to serve unaccompanied homeless youth.17 Further, each year the federal government spends $44 billion on rental assistance, public housing, and affordable housing programs, yet less than 1 percent of these funds, only $44 million, is allocated for homeless youth housing assistance.
There are currently no federal programs specifically designed to meet the needs of gay and transgender homeless youth, and there are no federal protections, and few state laws, in place to keep these youth from being discriminated against while accessing federally funded homeless services.
What’s worse, federal grant awards for homeless youth services are being awarded to providers without mandating that they not discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity, leaving vulnerable youth open to harassment from staff and other residents. Nor are these grantees required to abide by basic standards of gay and transgender health care. In short, the lack of inclusive policies and targeted resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in federal grants prevents this population from having equal access to federally funded services.
The federal government can take several steps to reduce the incidence of gay and transgender youth homelessness and improve the services and treatment these youth receive if they do become homeless. Specifically, the Obama administration should:
  • Strengthen families with gay and transgender children through evidence-based support services so youth do not become homeless. The Administration for Children and Families should develop programs that help families from all communities support and nurture their gay and transgender children to promote positive development and connection to families and communities.
  • Establish schools as a safe haven for all youth, including gay and transgender youth. The Department of Education should address the role of unsafe schools in promoting youth homelessness, and aggressively address school bullying. They should also take all possible steps to ensure that homeless youth are able to continue their education.
  • Acknowledge and protect those youths who continue to fall through the cracks. The first step to do this is an executive order recognizing both lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender homeless youth and homeless youth in general as special-needs populations, and protecting them from discrimination by federal grantees.
  • Take concrete steps to expand housing options for gay and transgender homeless youth through Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Housing and Urban Development programs.
  • Initiate research in this area as gay and transgender youth homelessness, and the programs to address it, are not being adequately tracked or documented. Affirming data-collection methods for homeless gay and transgender youth should be established for all federal programs serving homeless youth. Programs to address homeless youth must be rigorously evaluated to understand what works.
Taken together, the five steps outlined above would create a coherent and consistent federal response to the crisis of gay and transgender homeless youth, which is critically needed at this time. As our nation’s society becomes more supportive of gay and transgender issues and youth come out at earlier ages, the federal government must step up and respond to the needs of these youths.
This report offers a blueprint for approaching this work. In the pages that follow, we will examine gay and transgender youth homelessness against the backdrop of overall youth homelessness in America and show the extreme levels of discrimination and violence many gay and transgender youth face at home, in school, in youth and adult homeless shelters and on the streets. We will specifically examine the many failing safety nets for these youth, and then demonstrate why our recommendations, if implemented, would do much to help ensure that all youth have a chance at a happy and healthy future.
* In this report the term gay is used as an umbrella term for all youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or queer.

By Nico Sifra Quintana, Josh Rosenthal, Jeff Krehely 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

300,000 to 400,000 LBGT Youth facing Homelessness Each Year by Dr. Jullian T. Weiss

The Center for American Progress released a report yesterday on LBGT youth homelessness and the federal response to it.  

It is not a pretty picture.
According to the report, there are approximately 1.6 million to 2.8 million homeless young people in the United States, and estimates suggest that disproportionate numbers of those youth are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
The portion of the homeless youth population who are gay or transgender is estimated to be 20 to 40 percent, although gay and transgender youth comprise only 5 to 10 percent of the overall youth population.
Here's a few numbers:
320,000 to 400,000: A conservative estimate of the number of gay and transgender youth facing homelessness each year.
14.4: The average age that lesbian and gay youth in New York become homeless.
13.5: The average age that transgender youth in New York become homeless.

The report can be found here. It is extremely well written, and is an engaging mix of facts, individual stories, policy and history. Well worth reading.

The information in the report is shocking and saddening. Of the approximately $4.2 billion the government spends annually on homeless assistance programs,less than 5 percent of this funding, $195 million, is allocated for homeless children and youth.

Even less actually goes to serve unaccompanied homeless youth. Further, each year the federal government spends $44 billion on rental assistance, public housing, and affordable housing programs, yet less than 1 percent of these funds, only $44 million, is allocated for homeless youth housing assistance.

Children on the street, looking for comfort, looking for solace, looking for food, looking for shelter, looking for a friendly face, looking for love -- and where can they turn?

I, as an adult, found myself after transition without friends, without family, without job or material resources. It was terrifying, frightening, soul-killing. Did I turn to unsuitable people and places and things to try to stem the well of tears from my descent into the maelstrom?


And I was 36 years old, with education and other racial and class privileges.

Imagine a 13 year old trying to cope with social abandonment, with the material and emotional resources of a 13 year old.

Also from the report:
  • Homelessness disrupts a young person's normal development, often leading to issues in mental and physical health, educational attainment, and behavior.
  • Sixty-two percent of gay and transgender homeless youth attempt suicide compared to 29 percent of their heterosexual homeless peers.
  • The Ruth Ellis Center, an organization that exclusively serves gay and transgender homeless youth in Detroit, reported in 2006 that more than 60 percent of their high school age youth population had dropped out of school due to bullying or discrimination.
  • A full 58 percent of gay homeless youth in Midwestern cities had been sexually victimized.
  • 44 percent of homeless gay youth reported being approached to engage in sex in order to meet their basic needs.
  • A 2004 study found that gay homeless youth were more likely to suffer from major depression than heterosexual homeless youth, and lesbian homeless youth were more likely to have post-traumatic-stress syndrome than heterosexual homeless young women.
  • A 2006 study found that 42 percent of gay homeless youth abuse alcohol compared to 27 percent of heterosexual youth.
  • Injection-drug use is significantly more common for gay homeless youth than heterosexual homeless youth.
  • Homeless gay and transgender youth also report higher rates of unprotected sex than heterosexual homeless youth, as well as higher rates of HIV infection.
This report shows how imperative it is to address the plight of our youth. The conditions to which our young people are subjected are nothing less than criminal.

Whenever I hear about this issue, my resolve to get involved becomes stronger. I think about my own son, who has grown up into a wonderful young man. The thought of his being mistreated makes me angry; and it makes no difference that the youth being tortured by society through abandonment and homelessness are not my own.

One of the programs designed to shelter homeless LGBT youth is the Ali Forney Center in New York City. The work they do is nothing short of amazing. You can read more (and more importantly, donate) here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

No biological reason for lgb people? Not from my viewpoint.

The religious say that lgb "chose" to be attracted to same sex partners....  That G_d doesn't make mistakes.  And when scientists began saying we think it's genetic to be lgb, they again spoke up, saying that making around 10% of the population non-reproductive makes no sense at all.  Well no, not from a current view of life.  However if you look at humanity through the lens of how we lived for thousands of years, in small tribal communities, things make much more sense.

Bisexual men have the largest brain size of all men.  It's estimated that around 40% of men claim to be at least somewhat bisexual.  In modern society where each person is more or less an island, this has no effect on their social standing.  In a tribal setting it all makes perfect sense.

The ancient Greeks felt that having your battle partner be a loved sexual partner gave them extra incentive
to fight harder.
     Phaedrus, in Plato's Symposium, on the power of male sexual relationships to improve bravery in the military:

... he would prefer to die many deaths: while as for leaving the one he loves in a lurch, or not succoring him in peril, no man is such a craven that the influence of Love cannot inspire him with a courage that makes him equal to the bravest born
But if you go back even further into our dim past, the genetic role of a bisexual male, in my mind at least, becomes even more important.  So, how does having many of the men be bisexual help?  Sex, pure and simple.  If these men were engaging with sex with other men in their troop then it would draw them closer together.  Your hunting group, your defense group bound by the ties of sexual feelings and love will provide a closer knit team.  If at the same time they are in a sexual relationship with a female that is also based on love and sex, they are providing for the future in the form of many children.  These multiple bonds would provide a closer more cohesive tribal unit.  

There are three main groupings of people in a tribe.  The children, who while at the end of their childhood are starting to produce for the tribe, for the most part only absorb materials brought into the tribe.  Materials being of course, food, clothing, and heat. The producers, who bring into the tribe materials.  And lastly the makers, these are the elders, the heavily pregnant, the ill and the crippled members.  This group takes what is brought into the tribe and turns it into food, clothing, and processing food in some way to preserve it for tomorrow.

This is where I feel that gay and lesbians had a genetic job to follow.  Gays would be another body to hunt, trap and fish and to fight off enemies.  Since he is not producing offspring, his extra would provide a cushion of security for the tribe.  Lesbians would also bring in more materials than they would be using.  Allowing gay and lesbians to have partners would also provide parents to children who had lost theirs.  If you add up 10% of calories over the course of a season, that quickly becomes a vast storehouse of reserve, which in a time of famine could be the difference between survival and death.

Narrowing down the acceptable sexual partners to only allowing m/f combinations, could in theory have caused some major problems for a tribal form of life.  Each time you put limits on sexual combinations, a bond is snipped, often forever weakening our connection with our fellow tribesmen.  We have all heard of older cultures that accept gay and lesbian people.  Before westerners came to Japan, they didn't have a word to describe homosexuality, it was just a normal part of human sexuality to them.

And as for trans people?  If you noticed I didn't add the t onto lgbt earlier on.  I can not find a biological reason for being trans.  To be honest, I feel that it is a birth defect due to improper hormone flooding the fetus.  But hey, this is all my own musings, feel free to contradict me!