The holiday season frightens me. It is the time of year our homeless kids are most likely to attempt suicide. Kids who have been cast out of their homes suffer badly during a season that celebrates and idealizes family togetherness.
Yesterday I met with a group of kids at our drop-in center in Chelsea. They were all out in the cold at night, waiting for beds to open up in our shelters. One boy, who is 16 years old, told me how everything went bad for him when he was eleven. His father demanded to know if he was gay and when the boy was honest, his father refused to speak to him for three years. His mother tells him that he is a mistake and that she wishes she never had him. He has been running away repeatedly since then. There is nothing to celebrate at his home. I had a hard time sleeping last night, wondering what he had suffered.
What a sick, toxic force homophobia is in our society, destroying homes, making parents turn on their own children. Tens of thousands of teens in our country have been forced out of their homes. An LGBT teen is eight times more likely to suffer homelessness than a straight teen. The religious and political leaders who promote homophobia are causing terrible human suffering. They lie when they say they are promoting family values.
The waiting list for our shelter beds skyrocketed in the last year. More than half the kids coming to us for help are from out of state. Most are from the red states. Even though we recently opened a new 20-bed shelter, we now have a waiting list of over 200 kids. In New York City there are only 250 youth shelter beds for a population of 3,800 kids, 40% of whom are LGBT.
I am haunted by the perception that these kids are paying the price for our victories. I believe that when there is a lot of conflict about gay rights, parents who give credence to homophobic religious and political leaders take it out on their LGBT kids. It is no coincidence that our waiting list grew more than ever before in a year that saw the overturning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the achievement of Marriage Equality in New York.
The fight for LGBT equality for adults is often a matter of changing laws. But for these kids, who have been made destitute by homophobia, it is a fight for resources. A gay teen may not be able to depend on their parent’s love, but they should be able to depend on our community to protect them. We cannot allow them to be left out in the streets.We need to marshall our resources to provide for them, and demand that our tax dollars help to create a safety net for them.
At the Ali Forney Center we are doing our best to protect the kids. We now house 77 every night in eight different shelter and longer-term housing sites. We serve hundreds more daily in our two drop-in centers. We work especially hard during the holiday season to create a warm and joyful environment for the kids. We have Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts at all of our housing sites and drop-in centers. We bring together many people to help us with all the food and withassembling abundant presents for all the hundreds of kids. Honestly, making the kids feel as happy and loved as possible during this season can be a matter of life and death.
I am deeply grateful to the community of people surrounding JMG for your generosity to the Ali Forney Center. Over the past few years the appeals Joe has invited me to write have generated over $65K. On this Thanksgiving day, I give my thanks to all of you who have been so kind and caring.
I hope that you will consider continuing to support our work. Donations can be made online or can be mailed to:
Ali Forney Center
224 West 35th Street, Suite 1102
New York, NY 10001