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.

Without equality, we have nothing: gay marriage as a first step

Gay Marriage Utah
A gay couple displays their marriage license, Salt Lake City, UT. Kim Raff/AP

So the reddest state in America now has gays and lesbians marrying. With Utah, a standard is set for the 32 states yet to gain marriage equality. All I can do at this moment is express my thanks: I am so incredibly proud of the activists, families, lawyers, judges, and politicians that have been able to change public opinion, make courageous stands, and put their political futures on the line in order to do the right thing.

To the members on the Iowa Supreme Court whose courage cost them their jobs, you have my respect.

To those that grilled legislators, used their votes and their wallets to compel bills through political obstinacy and social conservatism, you are an example of what activism can do given time and sheer determination.

To the voters of Minnesota, who last year were the first to reject a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage, I admire the long and difficult campaign you endured. The outside money from places like the Church of Latter-Day Saints. The demonization from talk radio and “family” groups. You fought through it all and did it with grace and civility.

To the people who organized and led successful votes in Washington, Maryland, and Maine to approve marriage equality, you have done great work in promoting equal protection and preventing reactionary groups from taking it from you.

To those still laboring in states full of fundamentalism, hatred, and backwards sexual politics, I am sure you will achieve what you seek.

And to those in the LGBT community that know marriage is only one step of many towards true equality, I salute you. Only in a society where transgendered people are not viewed as somehow lesser people; where the workplace is a place where discrimination knows no place; where gays can donate blood without the ignominy that they are somehow the only group that can contract HIV- then justice has scored a full victory. You are already working on the next fight, and the fight after that.

This fight is not over. I am glad that people have not waited passively for a grand court decision to make marriage equality the law of the land. For a state-by-state struggle makes everyone stronger, forges the trust and bonds needed for future fights. There is no moral cover in waiting. The time is now, for all people to cross borders and ideologies and move in collective purpose.

I am glad to identify with the Unitarian Universalist church, who started on this road before anyone else thought same-sex marriage a possibility. They dream, because all justice was once a dream. Let us realize that without equality, we are all not free. The right to marry only achieves real meaning when it applies to all other people. Otherwise it is not a right, it is a privilege.

So today, with New Mexico and Utah moving in the right direction, it is time to move forward with a momentum never before seen in this country.

Andrew J. Mackay