By Douglas Yu
A new Williams Institute’s study suggests that 40 percent of homeless youth are identified as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. Yet LGBT youth make up just 10 percent of all U.S. youth, so LGBT youth are disproportionately represented among homeless young people.
According to Think Progress, a liberal American political blog, about 30 percent of homeless LGBT youth use housing-related services, such as emergency shelter and transitional living programs. Youth On Fire is the biggest drop-in center for LGBT homeless youth in the Boston area. Other prominent drop-in centers in the U.S. include the Ali Forney Center in New York City, Ruth Elise Center in Detroit and Lost-n-Found Youth Inc. in Atlanta.
Grace Sterling Stowell, executive director of BAGLY, one of the oldest organizations in Massachusetts that provides services to LGBT homeless youth, said homelessness among LGBT youths has many causes. “They run away from home, they drop out of shelter system and more, because they recognized that they may have lived in a situation that is really unsafe,” she said.
Among all the reasons for LGBT youth homelessness, running away because of family rejection over sexual orientation or gender identity is at the top. Other reasons include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home, aging out of the foster system, financial or emotional neglect from the family and more.
When LGBT youth are forced out of their homes, 58.7 percent of them are at higher risk for victimization, mental health problems, and unsafe sexual practices, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
And “transgender are the most abused people in the country,” said Rick Westbrook, executive director of Lost-n-Found Youth Inc. in Atlanta. Aside from being ostracized for being who they are, it’s hard for them to find employment, he said. Usually, the Lost-n-Found center houses unemployed transgender youth for 90 days. During the 90 days, the center’s staff try to get them in contact with lawyers to help them set up a lawsuit if any of them are fired because of their gender identity.
Sex after drugs, body modification and thoughts of suicide are among the top risky behaviors for that trans-identified youth, according to National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Stowell said that transgender people in general face a range of unique challenges and seeking medical transition is one of them. “Trans issues directly challenge [traditional society’s] system,” Stowell explained, adding that modern culture is set up around biological sex, i.e. around male and female. “But the system doesn’t really respond.”