Christmas is the perennial day in history where Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus the Nazarene. I was raised in this tradition and celebrate it today, malady a day in which we are reminded of the great promise and possibility of peace and good will towards all. We celebrate with family and friends and the sharing of gifts. The world seems to stop for this one day.
I hold fond memories of Christmas day with all its traditions–decorating the tree, hanging the Christmas stockings, attending midnight Mass, anticipating a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve, sharing time with family and friends, the exchanging of gifts and enjoying the true holiday spirit. For me, this is truly the one family holiday I never wish to miss. But for far too many people, this day is a day filled with loneliness and sadness, especially our queer homeless youth.
According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, “of the estimated 1.6 million homeless American youth, between 20 and 40 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.” That’s up to 640,000 queer homeless youth roaming the streets of America. In one study, “26 percent of gay teens who came out to their parents/guardians were told they must leave home.”
Imagine 166,400 kids being kicked out just because they are queer! What kind of parents would throw a child out onto the street?
These numbers, disproportionate to the overall percentage of queers in the United States population, show the severe vulnerability queer youth are to the plight of homelessness.
According to the Safe Schools Coalition’s (SSC) “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Homeless Youth Fact Sheet,” homeless youth is typically defined as unaccompanied youth aged 12 to 24 years and include four major categories: runaway (fleeing youth), transitory or episodic (couch surfing youth), unaccompanied homeless youth (shelter hoppers), and street dependent youth (squatters and travelers). Youth consistently report severe family conflicts as the primary reason for their homelessness and queer youth report double the rates of sexual abuse before age 12.
In addition, the SSC studies indicate that “once homeless, LGBTQ youth are at higher risk for victimization and suffer higher incidents of mental health problems and unsafe sexual behavior than (heterosexual) homeless youth. They experience an average of 7.4 more acts of sexual violence towards them than their heterosexual peers and are more likely to attempt suicide (62 percent) than their heterosexual homeless peers (29 percent).”
In Philadelphia there are between 650 and 1,300 LGBTQ homeless youth living on the streets. A number that is clearly unacceptable.
So, as we all enjoy our holiday season with loved ones, let us be mindful of these children who so need peace and good will. On this particular holiday let us be conscious of all the work that lies ahead to end such LGBTQ youth homelessness and all the needs that must be met to achieve that end and how we as individuals and as a community might express our kindness, outreach and support.