Today, young adults are more vocal about their sexual orientation than ever before. And with society’s shifting views on marriage equality, one might assume LGBTQ acceptance is on the rise, but that is not the case for many queer youth.
Tragically, more than 1 in 4 are thrown out of their homes, mistreated, or made the focus of their family’s dysfunction after coming out, or being discovered. According to the National Gay & Lesbian Taskforce, LGBTQ youth make up an estimated 3-5% of the American population, yet more than 20% and up to 40% make up the homeless youth population. Disproportionately, youth of color represent this group and bear the burden of homophobia and racism while living on the streets.
Ballroom culture has often provided a space for homeless queer youth of color to form chosen families, affirm one another, and strategize to obtain necessities for survival. But without family support or shelter, reports indicate LGBTQ youth of color are at greater risk of substance abuse, depression, suicide, truancy, and sexual exploitation. This reality is highlighted in the film Paris Is Burning and most recently in Pariah, as the character, Laura deals with homelessness due to her mother’s opposing views.
Although some efforts have been made to combat LGBTQ homelessness, it is imperative that organizations search for support within the LGBTQ community. With the current economy, many might equate “support” to a monetary implication, but most organizations need volunteers, as well.
As queer people of color, we must acknowledge our various skills and determine how they can be useful to struggling homeless youth of color. Whether you are a financial advisor, a techie, a dancer, or a great cook, your presence can be empowering to youth who have been abandoned and pushed away by society. Something as simple as hosting a workshop, or facilitating a support group could tranform the lives of homeless queer youth of color and counteract stigmas associated with their ethinicity and sexuality.
5 Ways to Support LGBTQ Youth of Color That Don’t Require Money*
It’s that simple. Search for LGBTQ organizations in your respective communities, or local high schools that have youth centers and shelters in need of help or donations. GSAs and youth programs are often under-staffed and open to extra hands. Organizations like FIERCE and New Alternatives in New York City need volunteers to help with outreach. And, the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth (BAGLY) are constantly searching for chaperones for various youth functions.
Find out how you can interact with queer youth of color, individually and collectively. Often, they do not have the opportunity to mingle with queer adults of color, who have shared experiences (i.e religious, cultural, etc), so your presence has the potential to uplift and motivate them to dynamic levels. For example, Generation L in Chicago, Illinois, and OutYouth in Austin, Texas, both seek LGBTQ mentors of color to host support groups where multiple identities are discussed and identity pride is encouraged.
Gather a group of friends to donate items or serve as drop-in volunteers at shelters on the weekends and, of course, the holidays. You can organize a drive for resources — art supplies, theater props, space, board games etc — and donate the goods to non-profits and grassroots groups taking more creative approaches to supporting youth. In Boston, Massachusetts, Youth on Fire provides a welcoming and non-judgmental space for street-involved youth. And, The Theater Offensive — one of our favorite organizations — empowers and educates the local community through youth-led theater and performance.
In matters of relief, adults cannot assume what the youth need, it is essential to ask those who work directly with them. Call LGBTQ organizations to identify items on their ‘wish lists’ and efficient methods of reaching queer youth in their local communities, then determine how your skills can be translated. The Ruth Ellis Center provide short-term and long-term residential space to homeless LGBTQ youth in Detroit and Southeastern Michigan. They are often in need of drop-in volunteers to assist with meal preparation and sorting and organizing clothing donations.
Okay, we’re cheating. There’s actual money involved, here. But not money you weren’t going to spend partying at Pride, anyway. Attend benefits, events, parties supporting local organizations working to help LGBTQ youth. If you’re going to party, then at least have your money go towards a good cause!
Also, stay informed. Check out these other organizations doing amazing youth work around the world: