Unequal progress: the case of LGBT homeless youth

Taken from a Williams Institute study, 2012: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Durso-Gates-LGBT-Homeless-Youth-Survey-July-2012.pdf

September’s issue of Rolling Stone will include a magnificent feature on LGBT homeless youth. The personal stories are gripping; they may also be totally alien if your upbringing was not that religious. Above all, the key part of this story is how mainstream institutions misread LGBT progress. Carl Sicialiano, a former Benedictine monk turned homeless LGBT advocate, distills things:

“I feel like the LGBT movement has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to this,” he says, running his hands through his closely cropped hair and sighing. “We’ve been so focused on laws – changing the laws around marriage equality, changing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ getting adoption rights – that we haven’t been fighting for economic resources. How many tax dollars do gay people contribute? What percentage of tax dollars comes back to our gay kids? We haven’t matured enough as a movement yet that we’re looking at the economics of things.”

Social movements tend toward an optimistic framing of their struggle. It’s empowering to talk about the slew of pro-marriage equality court decisions made in the past year. Although legal equality is making strides, the issue of gay youth being expelled from their homes is worse now than at any point in the past. The pro-equality environment for adults in loving relationships, who may also want children, does not transfer down to youth. As Alex Morris writes in the feature, openness about sexuality has driven average age of coming out into the high school years. When people come out as gay, lesbian, or trans* they are more economically and emotionally vulnerable than ever before. The social support system for the homeless is deficient, it’s even more deficient for youth (very little funding is earmarked for youth in particular), and a complete mess for LGBT youth.

As with many issues, solutions will come from two corners: lessening the spread of the problem and improving the structure to deal with it. Religious intolerance, activist Mitchell Gold says, is not addressed by major advocacy groups; he states “they don’t want to come across as anti-religion . . . But the number-one hurdle to LGBT equality is religious­-based bigotry.” The social system needs to pivot away from middle and upper-middle class gay politics to the survival struggle of hundreds of thousands at the very bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

Leaps forward do not benefit all members of a given social group or social movement. While one section of my friends rejoiced at the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, another mentioned that a large population of LGBT people do not aspire to be married, and may view marriage as rooted in patriarchal power relations. It is a mistake to neglect the economic inequity, both between the LGBT and straight, as well as within the LGBT community as a whole. Mainstream media outlets will, as they usually do, paint a very bourgeoise conflict. However, that misses the key conflict as it exists today.

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