While the media, the president, and a good portion of America focus on marriage equality, there is a serious problem being overshadowed. Homelessness has always been a major problem in the United States. Lack of funding, education, and resources means many people go without beds, food, and shelter. The criminalization of homelessness makes these people vulnerable to incarceration for trying to find places to sleep or even attempting to get money to eat. However, one group of homeless are even more vulnerable than others. Twenty percent of all homeless youth are a queer individual. Compared to their cisgender and heterosexual peers, homeless queer youth face higher rates of sexual and physical assault as well as higher suicide rates (“National coalition for,” 2009). They face discrimination in shelters and agencies, as well as violence at the hands of both staff and others. These youth often lack support at home, school, and within society in addition to the of lack the ability to cope with the problems faced to them. queer youth require safe spaces with staff who understand their needs, problems, and who are supporting.
Despite having never experienced homelessness myself, I understand the issues surrounding queer youth. I’ve faced the violence, discrimination, and rejection due to being a queer person. I firmly believe that lack of education on all levels is one of the roots of the problem. Queer youth are twice as likely to not complete high school or pursue a college education. Thirty-one percent reported instances of harassment to the staff of their schools and received no response (“Gay and transgender,” 2010). Schools lack the resources and education on how to deal with their queer students. School counselors are often incompetent in queer problems and staff can be even more so. They do not know where to go educate themselves and there are very few (if any) seminars for both students and teachers about their queer peers. Helping these youth complete school with competent teachers, a good support system, and a good education helps motivate these students to go to college. These children are further guarded from life on the streets if they have a support system, even if it is outside their home. By working with schools and the at-risk/homeless queer youth population, we can work towards creating a better and safer world.
When dealing with disadvantaged youth, the values of having a purpose for living and having a sense of identity along with feelings of worth, are important since without these basic building blocks a person cannot begin to better themselves or start to see the world in a positive light. A person must know who they are and feel they are worthy of life’s benefits and offerings A purpose, even if it is something small, can help drive a person to pull themselves together. Instilling these values from a young age, for all youth, can help them remain strong and resilient despite life’s challenges. Once these basic and core values are established a person can begin to look outside of themselves for affection, acceptance, as well as developing honest and open relationships. A person must love themselves before they can begin to focus on others. Developing a purpose and an identity and self-worth requires a supportive, understanding, and safe environment. For most people, this would be their family and household. However, not everyone has a supportive, understanding, and safe household. Without this, many people must turn elsewhere for this environment. For youth, the second most likely place for this would be school. However, for queer youth, schools may not always be supportive or safe. Bullying may run rampant among students and staff. Counselors may be inept at providing resources for queer youth. Queer safe spaces, such as after school clubs, may be entirely nonexistent. Comprehensive seminars must be provided to schools in order to promote positive environments for youth of all varieties.
While society is becoming more progressive, queer people are still portrayed in a negative and unequal light. Marriage equality is still a major issue, queer people can still be fired from jobs, denied housing or even removed from the premises of public accommodations. Many major religions contend that being queer is immoral and sinful. Some people and organizations are not only calling for reparative therapy and making homosexuality illegal, but also for the death of queer people. Transgender people still face major issues in the medical field when trying to access hormones, surgery, or even basic care. Many providers need to be educated by the patient about their own medical issues.
Queer youth come from every cultural background, race, ethnicity, region, country, city, state, gender or any other factor you can think of. Because of this, culture is something that needs to be taken into account. Different cultures have varying degrees of acceptance and tolerance of queer people. Certain cultures may be more tolerant of lesbian women than they are of gay men, while others may entirely be against both. Some cultures may be accepting of transgender people while condemn homosexuality. Iranian culture condemns homosexuality in all forms, however the government pays for gender confirmation surgery for transgender people. These transgender people also hold contempt towards the gay community and will deny being gay. While transgender people are inherently queer, Iranian culture draws a very distinct line. This is not to say that all Iranians are entirely accepting of transgender people while condemning sexual minorities. There are also many Iranians who fully support and accept queer people. Yet, it is important to understand where the culture for these people stands. African-American culture is known for being intolerant of gay men. These cultural differences can lead to very different interpretations of a person’s identity and how they fit in. While impossible to know all the differences among cultures, it is important to understand the major race and ethnic differences on queer people. Cultural sensitivity is mandatory when working with any group, queer or not. Another important factor to consider is religion. Many homeless queer youth face problems not only at home with religious clashes, but also on the streets. Religious organizations, shelters, and agencies may discriminate based on gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Despite facing negativity, homeless queer youth may still hold strong to their religious beliefs. Tolerance as well as understanding must be given when dealing with these youth. Trying to deny them their faith will be harmful and anything but beneficial. However, they can be pointed towards congregations, churches, mosques, temples, or other religious places that are queer accepting.
Society has a long way to go before queer people are entirely accepted. People often say that the children are our future, and if that is true, we must focus on making the world a better place for them. Queer youth are severely lacking in support and resources, especially those on the streets. While making a large portion of the homeless youth population, these children are often without a voice. They are often overshadowed by other problems in society, such as the current fight for marriage equality.
National coalition for the homeless: Lgbt homeless. (2009, June). Retrieved from http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/lgbtq.html (“National coalition for,” 2009)
Gay and transgender youth homelessness by the numbers. (2010, June 21). Retrieved from http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/06/homelessness_numbers.html