Speaking Out to End LGBTQ Youth Homelessness

by Guest Contributors

Every morning, thousands of LGBTQ youth wake up and begin their day without knowing where they will go to sleep that night.

Post submitted by June Crenshaw. Crenshaw is currently the Executive Director of the Wanda Alston Foundation, a transition housing program serving homeless LGBTQ people ages 16-24 in Washington, D.C. She also works as a business consultant for Coventry Health Care and has been on the D.C. Mayor's Advisory Board for LGBTQ Affairs since 2006.

On any given night in Washington, D.C., on the streets of the Nation's Capital, there are 200 to 300 LGBTQ homeless youth sleeping on sidewalks and weather grates and under bridges and overpasses. Despite the bone-chilling cold of winter and the suffocating summer nights, these young people are attempting to survive the overwhelming odds of the elements in a city that allocates only 75 beds to LGBTQ homeless youth. These youth are already facing heartbreaking marginalization, rejection and trauma solely because of their gender identity and sexual orientation. For over a decade, the Wanda Alston Foundation has been providing shelter and supporting LGBTQ youth ages 16 to 24 who are experiencing homelessness. In my four years of leading this organization, which provides life-saving and transformative services, I have never been more concerned about the future of our young people with the Trump-Pence administration proposing federal regulations to intentionally enable discrimination against LGBTQ youth in need and other vulnerable communities in federally funded programs.

Last month, the White House proposed nine federal regulations through federal agencies across the federal government that would permit federally funded programs to turn away LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and other marginalized communities if they believe serving those groups--in the most basic of humane ways—goes against the program's religious or personal beliefs. This is a part of a three-year effort by the Trump-Pence administration to implement a license to discriminate on the supposed basis of religious freedom, despite failing to illustrate how religious beliefs are under attack by ensuring young people of all backgrounds have shelter.

Every morning, thousands of LGBTQ youth wake up and begin their day without knowing where they will go to sleep that night. Persistent levels of family rejection, bullying and discrimination and targeting at school contribute to unconscionable rates of homelessness and housing insecurity. Studies have found that as many as 40% of youth living on the streets or facing housing insecurity identify as LGBTQ. Systemic discrimination in employment, education and housing also increase the likelihood that these youth will remain homeless upon adulthood and therefore reliant on government programs. Transgender individuals face even higher rates of homelessness and poverty and are at even greater risk of experiencing violence either on the street or in a shelter. 

There are a number of youth that come to our facility from other agencies and organizations where they have reported to us that they've been attacked, or abused, or refused services, or kicked out, or that even the staff has encouraged other homeless individuals to attack them. They've been bullied and ostracized, particularly if we are talking about some of the faith-based organizations that are required to provide services to everyone that comes through their door but oftentimes don't provide those services in a culturally competent or welcoming way. We find that the most vulnerable individuals are trans men and trans women of color, gender non-conforming individuals.

The consequences of homelessness, particularly for LGBTQ youth, are far-reaching and can last a lifetime. Homelessness is harmful to mental and physical health and youth who are homeless are at an increased risk for sexual abuse and exploitation, chemical and alcohol dependency, social stigma and discrimination. These youth also experience lower levels of long-term educational attainment—placing them at an even greater disadvantage when they enter the job market. Forced to navigate young adulthood without critical family and social safety nets results in catastrophic consequences for economic stability, educational attainment and life expectancy.

Federally funded social service organizations provide critical resources and care for these youth when they are at their most vulnerable. The children and youth seeking help from these federally funded programs should be able to trust that they will be welcoming, culturally competent and client-centered. These proposed regulations will further empower providers to refuse to adequately serve LGBTQ youth and will sanction harmful discrimination against youth in care, seeking shelter services, and prospective foster and adoptive parents. 

No LGBTQ youth should be refused taxpayer-funded assistance. No LGBTQ youth should be forced to compromise their identity or their own religious belief in order to receive taxpayer-funded services. Our LGBTQ youth, who are experiencing homelessness, have no one else to speak up for them if we do no choose to take a stand and demand from the federal government that these regulations are rejected and non-discrimination protections be put in place to ensure no young person is turned away from critical, life-saving services funded by taxpayers. Our humanity and integrity are at stake in this fight and we must not remain silent.