Spotlight on Homeless LGBTQ Youth

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While casually perusing my GoodReads mail, I came across this startling statistic. It stopped me short. I’ve read quite a few M/M books where one of the protagonists is or was homeless and had to prostitute himself for a time, but I never really thought about the reality. They were, after all, romance novels, and a host of horrible things happen to protagonists in order to create dramatic tension. I bet the 40% in that poster wouldn’t mind if some of their hardship was merely dramatic tension, easily resolved by the story’s end.

Instead, here are a few sobering statistics I learned after a cursory search:

-LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12.
-LGBTQ youth, once homeless, are at higher risk for victimization, mental health problems, and unsafe sexual practices.
-58.7% of LGBTQ homeless youth have been sexually victimized compared to 33.4% of heterosexual homeless youth.
-LGBTQ youth are roughly 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth.
-LGBTQ homeless youth commit suicide at higher rates (62%) than heterosexual homeless youth (29%).

Source

I also learned that there are precious few shelters that cater to LGBTQ youth. I found a few in the United States, one in the UK and a related charity in Canada. The Toronto city council was recently petitioned to create more options for homeless LGBTQ youth, because of “normalized oppression” in the general shelter system. To quote Alex Abramovich, a research coordinator with the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto (and this CBC news story):

“It’s come to be expected that the shelter system is homophobic and transphobic so LGBTQ youth will frequently avoid the shelter systems and find themselves in situations such as sleeping on a park bench or in alleyways.”

Rejected by their families and their communities. Subjected to sexual abuse, homophobia from all corners. Deprived of the fundamentals, such as food, shelter, education, love, respect, all because of outmoded social conventions and bigotry. We can tell them it gets better all we want, but that isn’t going to put a roof over their heads, get a meal in their bellies, give them somewhere to feel safe and accepted.

Donations can. Volunteering can. Public pressure can. In the US, you can donate to Lost-N-Found Youth in Atlanta or ALSO Youth in Florida or the Ali Forney Center in New York City. In the UK, there’s the Albert Kennedy Trust. If you or someone you know runs a shelter, and they are interested in learning more about how to cater to LGBTQ youth, loads more information can be found here. Here in Canada, there’s Egale.

Canadian Thanksgiving is in a little over a month. Wouldn’t it be great if some of these kids could be spending it in a shelter, enjoying a hot meal, with others like them, watched over by sympathetic staff and volunteers? I hope one day kids whose only crime is to love who they love, or be who they are, are relegated to the world of fiction.

(Much thanks to Moderatrix Lori from the GoodReads M/M Group for shining a light on this issue.)

-Selina

The Normal Heart

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In the tradition of And the Band Played On…, last night HBO aired the film version of the 1985 agit-prop masterpiece by Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart. If you haven’t watched it yet, especially if you are an M/M devotee like I am, it is absolutely worth your time. (Spoiler warning from here on out.)

I’ll confess I had my doubts about the project, mostly due to the involvement of Ryan Murphy. To be blunt, I’ve never liked his work. Too camp, too lightweight, too silly, too trashy. But even Murphy admits that he restrained himself because of the importance of this project, to him and to the gay community at large. The fact that he can say that about his own work should perhaps give him pause, but anyway. He had excellent source material here, and, despite a few quibbles, I think he knocked it out of the park. If you aren’t sobbing by the end of this, I think you should go in for a chest x-ray to make sure you aren’t a robot.

The story centers around the ground zero for AIDS, the NYC gay community circa 1981, in the midst of unprecedented sexual and personal freedom for homosexuals. Ronald Regan publicly acknowledged the existence of the disease in 1985, but during the four years in-between, there was a lack of information, a black hole of support from governmental institutions, and even some resistance/disbelief within the gay community itself. And yet men young and old were dying by the hundreds, from a disease that wasn’t understood and that desiccated them from the inside out.

It might be fair to ask, “Why a movie about the beginnings of AIDS when we are so advanced, both socially and medically, now?” But when you consider how quickly the government reacted to SARS or H1N1, and how slow they were to address this out of prejudice and bigotry (not to mention the fact that 6,000 people get infected with HIV daily), the timeliness of the tale becomes clear. The Normal Heart is really a story about advocacy. What is the best way to make your voice heard? Some would say it’s through diplomacy, negotiation, awareness that doesn’t challenge anyone. But how much does that really get you, in the end? Isn’t it preaching to the converted? When it comes to life or death situations, to hate crimes, to racism, to a sub-culture that has no rights and no visibility, do you barter, or do you roar? And what are the consequences of that roar, even within your own community? The Normal Heart illustrates this conflict beautifully, and gives no easy answers.

It is also, in its heart of hearts, a romance.

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Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer play one of the most enchanting onscreen gay couples ever. Their passion and their devotion gave me Brokeback-level chills (and tears!). Anyone who doubts that there should be more gay romances in film and on TV needs to watch these two woo each other. Their relationship anchors the film, underlining the stakes for all the men living in that time, both personally and socially.

Which isn’t to say that the movie is perfect. I would have liked some of the other men who worked at the Gay Men’s Heath Crisis Center to have been a bit more well-rounded. Taylor Kitsch’s Bruce Niles, in particular, sometimes seemed to put up a fight because that’s what the narrative called on him to do rather than because that’s what viewers felt he would do as a person. One of the most stirring monologues is given by a character who is little more than a background player. These moments land, but they could have been that much more powerful with a bit of backstory.

But I’ve not heard a better defense of how anyone who is different should be treated within their own families than the one Mark Ruffalo’s Ned makes here. And the ending is perfect: a defeat for Ned on the personal and career fronts, but he is undaunted. He knows that sometimes a series of little victories can ultimately win the war.