Post submitted by the Miquel Brazil, Director of Prevention Programming at the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland.
In the days leading up to MLK Day of Service on January 20, HRC and its partners, including the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, are working to increase national attention about LGBT youth homelessness through service activities in over 15 cities.
Stay tuned to the HRC Blog throughout January as our members, supporters, and allies share their stories about why they are participating in MLK Day of Service and the work that we are doing together.
Homelessness is one of those social ills that are particularly easy to empathize with, especially when you live in the Midwest. Those bitterly cold nights signature to our region, evenings when you arrive at your home and are once again welcomed by warmth — it’s in those moments your heart aches for those who must brave the cold with no relief in sight. It was on one of these nights when my own empathy turned to experience. It encourages me to participate with HRC in MLK Day of Service and to continue to work with local LGBT youth of color as I have done for more than a decade.
It was a numbingly cold Christmas Eve almost a decade ago. Two months prior, defeated and without a degree, I returned to Cleveland from college and was offered sanctuary with a close but estranged relative. The first few weeks were good. My return offered me the opportunity to reconnect with this relative and their new, growing family. However, tensions mounted over weeks, and peaked on December 24.
I was returning from a friend’s Christmas party. I arrived at my relative’s home with numb fingers and toes, only to find that I could not get into the house. I had not been allowed a key, and no one was responding to my repeated knocks. I saw my relative peek out the window. I motioned them to open the door, but they shook their head and closed the blinds as I stood out in the cold.
I was hurt and angry. My anxiety had been on high alert for several weeks, and although I feared that something like this was possible, I convinced myself that my relative wouldn’t kick me out of their home, especially on Christmas Eve. Yet, there I was, walking the streets of Cleveland. I went to the Greyhound Station, a temporary reprieve from the cold, to gather my thoughts and plan my next move. In the days that followed, my relative was no longer taking my phone calls, and I ultimately spent a month sleeping on friends’ couches, using what little money I had to purchase Greyhound tickets back and forth to Akron and eating where I could.
I’m fortunate that this experience was short-lived. I soon discovered the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland and their work to assist young people like me. With their help, I was able to stabilize my life and get back on my feet.
I now serve as the director of prevention programming for the Taskforce. One of my primary functions is work with young people who find themselves in similar situations. My approach is about fostering independence and connecting young people to the resources that allow them to take back control of their lives. That’s what was offered to me. This is me paying it forward.
Through the Taskforce’s award-winning youth program, the Beyond Identities Community Center (BICC), we have served over 2,500 LGBT youth of color over its 10-year history. BICC has provided or linked young people to services as varied as mental health counseling, housing, nutritional/food bank services, medical care, life skills, sexual and reproductive health, and leadership development. A growing number of these youth are transgender, and, like myself so many years ago, have come to the AIDS Taskforce because they have no other place to go.
The AIDS Taskforce’s primary mission is to support people living with HIV/AIDS in the Greater Cleveland area. However, we find ourselves compelled to address the tangential needs that place area youth at greatest risk for HIV. Moreover, since housing stability has become a well-established indicator of the ability to achieve positive health outcomes, transgender youth experience homelessness at far greater rates than their LGBT peers, placing them at significantly increased risk for contracting HIV. They not only need housing, but also clothing and other resources that are sensitive and respectful of their gender identity. These young people need support, community, and a place to belong.
Our Day of Service partnership with the Human Rights Campaign and a number of Cleveland organizations, like Movement in Black, is one of our important responses to this need.
This January 20, please join HRC and the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland in the fight against LGBT youth homelessness. To join this event in Cleveland, please visit www.hrc.org/MLKCLEVELAND.
And to find an MLK Day of Service event near you, visit http://www.hrc.org/campaigns/martin-luther-king-jr-day-of-service