People Besides Homeless Gay Teens Maybe Starting to Notice Gay Teen Homelessness

Queer teen homelessness has been a problem for quite a while now — just ask the homeless queer youth who have been frequenting shelters, halfway houses and the streets for decades for lack of a better option. Kids have been kicked out of their homes for being gay or trans for as long as kids have been coming out (or unintentionally outed) (or not out but perceived as disobeying gender norms). That’s not news. What is news is that it’s starting to seem like queer teen homelessness is finally making the news.

There are quite a few organizations meant to support queer youth who need homes and support, like the Opening Doors Project or the Ali Forney Center, but they’re largely by-the-community-for-the-community. The actual system put in place by the government meant to help homeless teens often fails queer youth, as Brian Dixon’s story from 2011 indicates. Many resources for homelessness are religiously affiliated, and sometimes don’t accept queer or trans people, and people who are non-gender conforming or trans are often in physical danger in gender-segregated temporary housing. As pervasive as this problem is — up to 25% of queer youth are at risk for homelessness — there’s very little mainstream media recognition of it. Back in June of 2011, Obama’s administration gave millions of dollars to start a pilot program meant to aid and support queer youth in LA’s foster care system. It appeared to go largely unnoticed.

But in January, when Obama specifically included queer and trans people in his public housing initiative and sent his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to speak at the National Conference on LGBT Equality, it became harder to ignore. It wasn’t a signature on a memo agreeing to send a check that the average American would never even hear about; it was a public statement meant to be heard. And now the Wall Street Journal is saying homelessness is “the next battle for gay equality.” If awareness is what it takes for a solution to the fact that between 20 and 40% of homeless youth are queer even though only 5% of young people overall identify as such, then maybe we’re on the way to winning “the next battle for gay equality.”

If people are talking about gay teen homelessness, then maybe enough people will know and care about it enough to make a difference. And if people are talking about gay teen homelessness, it means that they’re talking about the causes that matter to our community that are less popular to support. Homelessness is an issue that in any community, the queer one included, disproportionately affects marginalized people and groups. So if people really come to care about homeless gay teens, it means that they’re willing to care about more than gay marriage or cute pictures of weddings at city hall. It means they have to start caring about queer kids of color, queer kids who sometimes have to resort to sex work or “survival sex” to feed themselves, queer kids who are gender non-conforming or trans.  It’s possibly a lot harder to talk about, but it’s a conversation that America needs to be able to have, for their own sake and for the sake of kids whose lives are at risk every day. And maybe we’re starting to see that happen.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. This hits almost too close to home (if you’ll pardon the pun) for me. I very nearly wound up homeless twice this past year because I can’t really go back to my mom’s house. It’s fucked, but what can you do? I was taken in by strangers once and currently am living with a friend, so I’m one of the REALLY REALLY lucky ones. I’m glad someone’s actually acknowledging this as a valid issue.

  2. Currently creating a presentation on youth homelessness for a class. There’s already a section on LGBT homelessness in it because I have a feeling no one in my class (graduate level), including the prof, has any idea about it. Awareness is definitely needed.

  3. It’s been estimated that nearly 30% of the homeless teens in New York City are trans.

    So why is it that the headline specifies ‘gay teen homelessness?’ Yes, there is overlap in many of the issues gay-cis and trans teens face, but there are a LOT of unique issues which homeless or at risk trans teens face as well, and lumping everyone together under the banner of gay isn’t how one goes about exploring what those issues are. There are times when talking about LGBTQ makes political sense and there are other times when it’s just about over-simplifying complex issues and making segments of it invisible. And let’s face it, when we’re talking about issues of survival sex work among homeless teens, we’re overwhelmingly talking about trans women and girls… so why generalize?

    • When I read this article I went to look up the percentages of trans to cis lgb teens in homeless, remembering having heard before some statistic like the 30% one that you quoted. I couldn’t find the relevant research; could you tell me where you got the percentage from?

    • I had a similar reaction to the title. That being said, I love that you are writing about this here. I would be super-excited to see more articles on this topic here, and maybe that could be an opportunity for unpacking how sexual orientation categories and trans*ness play out differently/similarly in homelessness and poverty.

      • “My guess would be that it has to do with SEO.”

        Maybe… I truly don’t know whether the authors write their own titles. I just know that Rachel’s done this mislabeling in her pieces a number of times and has never changed them nor responded to concerns about it. So, until I hear otherwise, I assume she’s doing it because she intends to do it and that it represents her opinions about trans identities and community.

        • Hi Gina! I’m sorry if the omission of specific trans labels and identities from the title of the piece felt intentional or deliberately exclusionary to you, and it seems that you’ve felt really hurt by that, and I apologize. Hana is correct in guessing that SEO is a factor, as I’m always being reminded to be as economical as possible with the number of words in there. More specifically with this article, however, I chose the title because the piece(s) I was responding to, and talking about the existence of, did in fact deal with the phenomenon of “gay teen homelessness,” although you are of course correct in pointing out that statistically, it’s been a form of marginalization that the trans* community and trans youth have suffered much more often and more gravely. Since one of the things I wanted to do with this article was talk about how conversations around homelessness can possibly help bring awareness and support to the parts of our communities that experience particular and/or intersecting oppression, like trans* people and people of color, I really appreciate your bringing that issue to the foreground, and arguably making my point better than I did. I do recall that we’ve had similar conversations about titling on other articles, and I think in the past we’ve changed some titles to better reflect the content of the article and situation. Would you like for me to do that in this case?

          It’s clear from your response that you’re upset by the titling decision here, and that’s an entirely valid way to feel, but I’m curious about how you came to the conclusion that your reaction was something I intended to produce. I hope you know that you’re a welcome and well-recognized face in the community here, and that when any of us screw up on any level, we’re grateful to be informed of it.

          • Rachel, this goes far beyond ‘hurt feelings.’ There is a pervasive pattern among many self-described “gay” organizations, media and spokespeople to refer to “gay and lesbian” issues when they’re talking to their constituency, but to use issues which greatly impact trans people (particularly low-income trans women of color) when it means making an issue sound more desperate, getting funding or padding crime or AIDs statistics. A large percentage of youth at the Ali Forney Center are on the transfeminine spectrum yet that’s never emphasized by gay/lesbian media… it’s always gay/queer youth when using sweeping statements.

            Issues like young trans women doing survival sex work are referred to “queer youth doing sex work” or LGBTQ youth doing sex work. Trans women of color getting murdered suddenly become “trans people getting murdered” or even “queer or gay people getting murdered.” And it’s not okay.

            I truly appreciate your response and concern, but you’ve had a number of stories where this has been done and only I assumed your attitude because you hadn’t previously responded to the issue nor changed the titles. What I would really like is if I didn’t have to make these sour little replies and that all the writers at AS would NOT use gay or queer to supposedly include trans people (even though some trans people are also gay and queer ID’d). If AS is truly going to be a trans inclusive and aware site, there’s a lot more to it than adding an asterisk after ‘trans’ or having a few trans contributors.

          • It seems like, once again, you’re coming in to a queer space as a non-queer person and trying to dictate how queer people get to talk about themselves. AS is not meant to cater to you as a straight person. There IS a huge queer youth homelessness problem. If you ever go to Dimensions or any of the other spaces/services in San Francisco that cater to homeless/marginalized trans youth, you would see that MOST homeless trans youth here DO identify as queer. As a middle-aged straight person, I don’t understand why you think you get to dictate how queer youth are talked about in a safe space specifically for queer young people. Learn to respect other people’s safe spaces and check your privilege as a straight person.

          • I accidentally stumbled across your okcupid profile recently. You have some nerve trolling queer youth spaces as a 57 year old straight person telling actual young queer people that they’re talking about queer youth wrong and taking on this more-radical-than-thou attitude toward queer writers (including Annika) when in your personal life you’re trying to attract and cater to cis straight men chasers. Especially when you tag your profile with a bunch of key words like “transwoman” (imagine if a writer on here wrote something like that…) in order to maximize the number of chasers that see your profile.

            Basically, middle-aged straight lady, this is not your space and you need to stop trying to hijack it.

          • Um, PS/hmmm (whatever your non-troll is) FYI, there are lots of trans women who proudly ID as trans women and it has nothing whatsoever to do with their sexual orientation.(and creeping someone’s dating profile is just wrong on so many levels… so very wrong).

            “straight person telling young queer people that they’re talking about queer youth wrong.” No, but I am informing a cis- person they’re talking about trans- women in a not respectful manner, and because I’m a trans woman, regardless of my sexuality or your ageist bs, I get to do that, so there. There are LOTS of cis people on AS who write and comment about trans issues on this site, so you mean to say it doesn’t go the other way too? Excuse me, your sense of privilege is showing.

            I hope I’m not derailing Rachel’s thread (like you are) by pointing out a continuing tenancy of articles on AS which ID trans people as ‘gay’… (including the Manning and King cases… and there were MANY AS readers who mentioned that). But AS does have growing pains when it comes to trans inclusiveness and referring to OUR community respectfully and I will continue to point out those issues as I see them or until the AS owners decide I shouldn’t.

          • I appreciate this perspective because I didn’t think about use of “queer” as silencing, since I tend to use queer to cover all sorts of both sexual orientation identification and gender identity – that’s part of the reason I like the term. I will personally try to be more careful in the future to make sure in my own writing that I am not silencing trans* people by using the word queer as an overarching term and assuming everyone understands what I mean by that.

  4. Thanks for writing about this. I ended up essentially homeless at 16, when I came out. I mean, I was lucky enough to find places to stay a lot of the time, and later ended up in transitional housing. I certainly didn’t have it as bad as a lot of kids who end up living completely on the streets. But, it’s not exactly a pretty way to dive head first into adulthood and the world.
    It makes me feel so much better to see that it is being recognized more and more.

  5. If this issue received a quarter of the attention that gay marriage received, and a hundredth of the money, the problem would be solved.

    It sickens me to think about all the wealthy people who donate to places like the (inappropriately named) HRC, and yell about “being treated as a second-class citizen” but don’t give a thought to the homeless kids on our streets.

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