Activists Demand Shelter for Homeless LGBT Youth
Queer rights advocates and LGBT youth gathered in front of the historic Stonewall Inn on June 24, hours before state lawmakers passed the marriage equality bill, to demand funding for homeless LGBT youth programs. Among those present were Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center; actress and activist Ally Sheedy; Erin Drinkwater of Brooklyn Lambda Independent Democrats; Jonathan Lang of Empire State Pride Agenda; two Stonewall veterans and clients from the Ali Forney Center and Green Chimneys.
"When I see what we can do as a community, how we can overcome oppression and homophobia, it gives me a lot of inspiration that we can do the same thing for our young people," said Siciliano. "Unfortunately, we have a long way to go, and that is why we are here, launching a campaign calling on the city and state of New York to commit to providing shelter to every homeless youth."
Activists called for the city to provide 100 new beds every year, until they are no longer needed. Siciliano said of the 4,000 youth without shelter every night in New York City, one-quarter of them are LGBT youth. Gay youth are eight times as likely to experience homelessness as other youth.
Sheedy, an Ali Forney board member, spoke passionately for gay youth. "I feel that we as the New York City community have a moral obligation to take care of our kids, especially if their own parents will not do it. Those kids are our future," said Sheedy. "They say it takes a village; we’re a great big village, and we need to take care of our kids. So I’m asking the governor and the mayor to please not cut any more beds for our children, and to please restore as many beds as you can every year so we won’t have any more children living in our streets. Even if they can never go home, at least we know that they can be safe."
"We as the LGBT community have to come together and support our youth," added Siciliano. "Something that’s so painful for those of us who do this work is to see that young people are given the message that being LGBT makes them disposable. It makes them something that can be thrown away, like trash. We have to come together and fight that cruelty by protecting our young people."
Siciliano noted the irony in that while politicians were now voicing support for LGBT adults, Cuomo cut the funding for youth shelters by 50 percent, while Bloomberg proposed cutting runaway homeless youth services by 60 percent.
Saying that the issue of LGBT homeless youth was just as much of a problem in 1969 as it is today, Siciliano brought two veterans of the Stonewall riots, who as street youth, helped foment change simply because "they had absolutely nothing to lose."
Now in their sixties, Martin Boyce and Danny Garvin were homeless at the time of the Stonewall Riots. Boyce told a story of a homeless trans woman named Miss New Orleans, who always wore mismatched clothes. He recalled that during the riots, she pulled a parking meter out of the cement and used it as a battering ram against the police.
"I don’t stay hit," she told Boyce when he asked how she endured the frequent bashings. One winter, she was walking through the cold without a coat, shivering. It was the last time he saw her.
Garvin recalled being at Stonewall 42 years ago, when he was 20. He lived in a commune on Bleecker Street. Before that, he lived on the street. He survived by turning tricks. "Sometimes you do things you don’t want to do, but you need a roof over your head." People taking advantage of gay youth can lead to lifelong scars, said Garvin, adding, "No one should have to live like that."
Ali Forney Center client Raciel Castillo spoke of how his sexually made his teen years unstable and unsafe. He packed his things and moved to New York, and said that due to the stability provided by the Ali Forney Center, he was able to get his GED. He is preparing to attend to college.
"If these benefits are cut, not only will it affect me, but it will affect the hundreds of people who benefit from the services at the Ali Forney Center, and the thousands who will benefit from it in the future," said Castillo.
Harmony Santana, a 20 year-old trans youth, said that when her mother’s boyfriend turned her onto the street by last year, she found a home in Green Chimneys. She became a phlebotomist and an actress, and has two films about to drop, including "Gun Hill Road."
"Without the support and security I get from Green Chimneys, I don’t know where I would be," said Santana. "I know so many young people who turn to prostitution for survival, put their futures and lives at risk by taking drugs and hormones they get on the street. Some purposely try to contract HIV. Places like Green Chimneys do more than just give a bed. They give young people a chance to be themselves, to grow up safely, and provide security and love like a family, which many of us don’t have. It would be great if all families were accepting of their gay children, but they’re not. Young people need the services that Green Chimneys provides. Without it, I wouldn’t be here talking to you, and I would not have a place to call home."
Lang traveled from Albany to stand with Siciliano in demanding housing for gay youth. Drinkwater said that LID has worked closely with elected officials; the group sent a letter to Cuomo demanding he continue funding programs for LGBT youth.
"The fight has to become really simple; every youth deserves a bed," said Siciliano. "Youth cannot be left out on the street. It’s cruel, it’s inhumane, it’s barbaric to leave a young person out on the streets. And the time has come for the LGBT community to say no more. You cannot say you are a friend to the LGBT community if you hurt our children."
Among those groups and individuals represented at the event were the Ali Forney Center, Green Chimneys, Bronx Community Pride Center, the Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the True Colors Fund, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer [D-Queens] and Mike Ruiz from LOGO’s "The A-List."
Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.