Family conflict is the primary reason so many GLBT youths end up homeless. At least half of those studied reported a negative experience when they came out to their parents. Another 26% were kicked out of their homes. Another one-third experienced a violent physical assault as a consequence of coming out. GLBT homelessness leads to serious mental health issues, substance abuse problems, dangerous "sex for survival" conduct, and general victimization everywhere they go from an intolerant society, including those institutions designed to protect them the report found.
The study found juvenile justice facilities to be filled with violently homophobic inmates. GLBT youth complain of being harassed and raped by both inmates and staff, particularly the gay male youth. As one respondent described it, staff members think that “[if] a youth is gay, they want to have sex with all the other boys, so they did not protect me from unwanted sexual advances.” Making matters worse has been efforts by the Bush administration to promote government-funded, faith-based groups, who morally oppose homosexuality, to run juvenile justice programs. "A number of faith-based providers oppose legal and social equality for LGBT people, which raises serious questions about whether LGBT homeless youth can access services in a safe and nurturing environment," the report says. "If an organization’s core belief is that homosexuality is wrong, that organization (and its committed leaders and volunteers) may not respect a client’s sexual orientation."
Shelters for homeless youth often provide no refuge for GLBT youth. The report describes horrific conditions at such shelters:
The majority of existing shelters and other care systems are not providing safe and effective services to LGBT homeless youth. For example, in New York City, more than 60 percent of beds for homeless youth are provided by Covenant House, a facility where LGBT youth report that they have been threatened, belittled and abused by staff and other youth because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.The report has a number of recommendations it makes to help deal with the epidemic level of homelessness among GLBT youth. One that jumped out right away was the problem the youths have in accessing social and health services without the consent of an adult. If you're on the street because your parents kicked you out of the house, it's a little hard to get parental consent. Not surprisingly, the report recommends specific housing programs for homeless GLBT youth. On the topic of adoption, the report recommends repealing laws which prohibit single and partnered GLBTs from serving as adoptive or foster parents. It's sort of a vicious cycle when you think about it. We have a puritan, religious culture teaching intolerance, which leads parents to throw their kids in the street because of their sexual orientation, and then we outlaw the people most understanding of their kids' plight from assuming the parental responsibility their natural parents abandoned. There must be a Christian message in there somewhere that people are missing.
At one residential placement facility in Michigan, LGBT teens, or those suspected of being LGBT, were forced to wear orange jumpsuits to alert staff and other residents. At another transitional housing placement, staff removed the bedroom door of an out gay youth, supposedly to ward off any homosexual behavior. The second bed in the room was left empty and other residents were warned that if they misbehaved they would have to share the room with the “gay kid.”
LGBT homeless youth at the Home for Little Wanderers in Massachusetts have reported being kicked out of other agencies when they revealed their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many also said that the risks inherent to living in a space that was not protecting them made them think that they were better off having unsafe sex and contracting HIV because they would then be eligible for specific housing funds reserved for HIV-positive homeless people in need orientation or gender identity and may expose LGBT youth to discriminatory treatment.
Locally, I've not noticed any reporting in the mainstream media about how GLBT youth are treated in shelters and the Marion Co. juvenile system. I've heard anecdotal evidence of gay youths complaining about the intolerance of the faith-based organization providing services to the Marion Co. juvenile system. Indiana Youth Group, a not-for-profit organization, provides a drop-in and program facility for GLBT youth, but it does not function as a shelter. I attempted to contact Jill Thomas, Program Coordinator for IYG, to comment on the report's findings and any efforts which it might be undertaking to deal with the problem locally, but she did not return my phone call.
A big hat tip to Donna P. for passing along this study to me.