Thursday, August 6, 2009

Coming out early: the fight to help LGBT youth

Coming out early: the fight to help LGBT youth

Dr. Robert Reid-Pharr was in New York City walking his dog one morning when he was approached by a young black teenager. He appeared to be 15- or 16-years-old with slightly feminine mannerisms, Reid-Pharr said later. He propositioned the professor: sex in exchange for food. Like so many other homeless gay youth in New York City, the young man in front of Reid-Pharr has resorted to prostitution in order to survive.Reid-Pharr, a critical essayist and professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, turned him down.“I asked him what he was doing and he said his mom was addicted to crack. He had been out all night because there were people doing drugs at his home and he couldn’t stay there,” Reid-Pharr recalled. “He said, ‘usually when guys take me home they give me food first.’”

Like the young man who Reid-Pharr encountered, gay youth take to the streets for a variety of reasons, some resorting to hustling to survive. Whether they are kicked out by their families for being gay or are forced to leave to escape abuse, staying at home may not be an option for many gay youth.According to a 2007 study done by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth in the United States identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. The same study also found that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 homeless youth in New York City, of whom 3,000 to 8,000 are LGBT.Even when they are able to live at home, a gay kid’s life may not be easy. Bullying and a lack of support are pervasive problems in schools.

A 1997 Massachusetts Department of Education Survey found that gay students hear anti-gay slurs as often as 26 times each day. Faculty intervention occurs in only about 3 percent of those cases.Yet national attention for gay youth seems to be limited to only the most extreme stories, like the 2008 murder of Lawrence King, an openly gay 15-year-old student who was shot and killed by a fellow classmate.When gay children are being murdered by their classmates, why are the issues of gay youth not more widely covered?Carl Siciliano, the executive director of the Ali Forney Center, a housing center in New York City for homeless gay youth, explained why he believes gay youth are sometimes ignored or overlooked in the wide spectrum of gay rights.

Siciliano believes that a new generation of gay youth has risen up, different from past generations of gay men and women who were accustomed to coming out later in life.Kids are coming out earlier than in previous generations, Siciliano said, and gay organizations are only now paying attention.Older generations were accustomed to coming out later in life when they were out of their parent’s homes and able to support themselves. Today, kids who come out as young as 12 and are kicked out of their homes need the help of these gay organizations to survive.“Just the concept of a gay organization protecting gay youth is new,” said Siciliano. “We need to set standards because some of the [programs for gay youth] that have come around are lacking and grossly substandard.”

No comments: