Experts Weigh in on Report Detailing High Number of LGBT Homeless

CHICAGO - After the Williams Institute, True Colors Fund and the Palette Fund released a critical study on LGBT youth homelessness last month, Chicago-based experts have weighed in and offered reaction to the study's findings that 40 percent of homeless youth identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender and many agencies designed to meet their needs have failed to adequately address pressing concerns.

The study, conducted between October 2011 and March 2012, was designed to assess how homeless youth organizations provide services to LGBT youth. (See related story)

About 380 respondents from 354 agencies that serve homeless youth participated in the web-based survey.

Overall, the study found that the current network of homeless youth providers “is not adequately addressing the needs of gay and transgender homeless youth,” according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

The survey showed about 30 percent of homeless using housing-related services—emergency shelters and transitional living programs—were LGBT.

Among the top reasons why LGBT youth are homeless include: running away because of family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity (46 percent), being forced out by parents because of sexual orientation or gender identity (43 percent) and physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home (32 percent).

“Bottom line, youth homelessness has been an ongoing and steady issue, related to the impact of family and personal pressures on youth,” said Anne Bowhay, spokeswoman for the CCH.

Other organizations said they are also well aware of the issue of youth homelessness and what needs to be done.

UCAN, a Chicago-based nonprofit, touts its mission as to “build strong youth and families through compassionate healing, education and empowerment.”

Bonnie Wade, associate director at UCAN, said although there have not been any concrete LGBT homeless studies in the Chicago area, she noticed more than 60 percent of homeless youth self-identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual when she worked at a homeless youth shelter. She said there is such a significant number of LGBT youth homeless because of stress and lack of knowledge on LGBT issues in disadvantaged families.

“Let’s say you have a mom raising five children, and she’s a single parent and she has some kind of sickness,” Wade said. “She’s working a full-time job, she’s taking care of the five kids, so she’s already under a lot of stress and pressure. So let’s say her oldest son comes out as gay. It’s not easy, but sometimes it’s the final straw the breaks the camel’s back.”

Wade said if families were supported more and had access to resources, there would not be as many young people out on the streets.

“Because of systemic oppression and really poverty, sexism, racism and all of these -isms–all of this systemic oppression–it creates a permanent underclass of people,” she said.

Wade added that although the new study is an improvement on raising awareness for LGBT youth homelessness, there needs to be more study.

“We need more research on what ends homelessness specifically for LGBT young people: the housing model, what intervention strategies, what will it take to end homelessness among LGBT young people,” Wade said.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless posted a blog on the CCH’s website about the study. Authors Andrew Phifer and Jeff Krehely listed five key findings from the studies and the action needed in response to each finding.

One such finding showed nearly 60 percent of the responding agencies reported, “that transgender youth are in worse physical health than other youth,” according to the blog.

As a response, Phifer and Krehely wrote, “action needed: improve data collection by including sexual orientation and adding gender identity metrics to the Center for Disease Control’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey at the state level.”

Most statistics about LGBT youth come from local or regional surveys, so the authors wrote in support of a national survey conducted on a regular basis.

“The results of this survey act as further confirmation that America’s next generation of gay and transgender youth need us to stand with them so that they can stand on their own,” Gregory Lewis, executive director of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund, said in a Williams Institute statement accompanying the report.

Audrey Cheng is a reporter with The Chicago Bureau.

Photo from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

LGBT Youth Over-Represented in Juvenile Justice System

A disproportionate number of LGBT teens are represented in the nation’s juvenile justice system, possibly making up as much as 15 percent of the total juvenile justice population in the United States, according to a representative of the Center for American Progress.

The findings were discussed last month in Washington, D.C. at an event sponsored by the National Council on Crime & Delinquency and titled “Unfair Criminalization of LGBT Youth.”

Aisha Moodie-Mills, a LGBT policy and racial justice advisor at the Center for American Progress, presented findings on behalf of Dr. Angela Irvine, one of four authors of “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Youth and the Juvenile Justice System.”  The results from the report, which were published in the 2011 book, “Juvenile Justice: Advancing Research, Policy, and Practice,” state that while gay and transgender teens make up only 5 to 7 percent of the total youth population, they represent an estimated 13 to 15 percent of the population of young people involved with the nation’s juvenile justice system.

Moderating the event, Moodie-Mills said that stressors from family and school could potentially make LGBT teens more vulnerable than the general population to violence, prostitution and homelessness.

Shortly after the event, survey findings from a joint project involving the Williams Institute, the Palette Fund and the True Colors Fund found that almost 40 percent of the nation’s homeless or at-risk youth are gay or transgender.

Panelist Maya Rupert, a representative of the National Council for Lesbian Rights, said that several institutions, such as the nation’s education and legal systems, were failing the country’s LGBT teens.

“These are not systems set up to serve youth, let alone LGBTQ youth," she said, the Human Rights Campaign reported.

Also speaking at the event was Marie Williams, a representative of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) who criticized many schools for inducing “pushout of LGBT kids,” adding that her organization has documented “significant” instances of LGBT students leaving schools out of fear of their own safety. In the most recent National School Climate Study conducted by GLSEN, researchers indicate that approximately one-third of LGBT students have skipped at least one day of school because of safety concerns.