Homeless gay youth are our youth

LOS ANGELES – As we in Los Angeles prepare for one of the largest and most spectacular Gay Pride Parades in the nation there is much to be proud of. 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 celebrate!

Yet with all this gay excitement and celebration we can’t overlook the hundreds of young people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles every night. It is estimated that in the U.S. a half a million youth are homeless. Some 40 percent of these youth identify as LGBTQ.  And it is believed that Los Angeles is home to the most homeless young people in the country.

There are numerous reasons why youth become homeless including  abuse, neglect, poverty, and homophobia. Often LGBTQ youth are not physically or emotionally safe in their own homes and communities so they leave home in search of  more affirming and supportive space in which to live.

For whatever reason youth become homeless, their daily reality is almost impossible to imagine.  It is a reality of constant hunger, violence, exploitation, rejection, and stigma.  For many homeless youth each day is just about survival.  The realities that homeless youth experience impact every facet of their lifes including employment prospects, education and physical and mental health. 

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?

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

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 and fight for them. Talk with them. 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.  They 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.

Frank McAlpin, social worker and homeless youth advocate @FrankMcTalk 

Photo: AP