Stacy Gromatski: Too many LGBT youths among nation’s homeless

Invariably around the holidays, we all become wrapped up in the joy of the season.

Beginning Thanksgiving Day, the spirit of family, the spirit of joy, the spirit of giving become the primary expressions of our gratitude for the abundance of the past year in this the richest country in the world.

It’s also a time of singing, laughter, and reminiscence along with our favorite holiday tunes, whether it’s Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” or Nat King Cole’s sweet rendition of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”

Let’s not forget the TV shows that animate the season: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “A Christmas Story.” They bring G-rated thrills for the whole family.

Finally, the exchange of gifts, for it is our most profound connection with those whom we love and care for, whatever those who lament the commercialism of the holidays may say.

They protest too much. These are the staples of the common faith we share in the importance of fellow human feeling and the indelible acts of kindness and friendship that allow us to overcome its often hard and uncaring ways.

Undoubtedly, this seems unusually reflective, but around this time of year, something that tears at the spirit of the holidays is happening all across America: More than 1.7 million youth are homeless.

For a variety of reasons, from family problems to emancipation from foster care, many of these young people have no place to go.

Often they stay on the streets, a friend’s or relative’s house, or eventually find their way to one of many crisis shelters — the kind the Florida Network is responsible for representing across the state’s 67 counties.

This is a great national tragedy.

Yet there’s a subgroup within that population of homeless youth receiving the least attention — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth (LGBT). Between 9 to 45 percent of the “homeless youth” population are LGBT.

It’s extremely difficult to accurately assess the number of such youth because of their fears of law enforcement and social service workers. Moreover, those 354 organizations that have reported to the LGBT Homeless Youth Provider Survey say that almost 40 percent of their total populations are LGBT.

This is surprising because out of the total U.S. population of youth, only 5 to 7 percent are LGBT, according to the Center for American Progress’s landmark report on LGBT youth homelessness.

That LGBT youth are over-represented in crisis shelters is an indication of the long road to equitable treatment that we must walk to bring them from hopelessness to a life without fear, a life of opportunity and possibility.

All the surveys give a sense of the conditions LGBT youth face, of why LGBT youth are leaving home: 25 to 40 percent leave home because of family conflict and 46 percent because their families refuse to accept their sexual orientation.

The result: more are likely to engage in drug use, enter into the black market, steal, and engage in “survival sex” on the streets.

What is more, they often suffer depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Even more tragically, between 25 to 50 percent of LGBT youth will attempt suicide.

Nationally, more is being done to recognize this crisis. There is the “Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act of 2013” which, regrettably, languishes in Congress.

Still, there’s always hope — however faint. As you enjoy your holiday among family and friends, count your blessings.

Try to remember those less fortunate and more in need of them, who may or may not, find solace this Christmas year.

Guest Author


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