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

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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.

Why Aren’t There Any Gay Superheroes in Film and on TV?

With every film studio trying to get in on the Marvel Cinematic Universe game and a slew of new superhero televisions shows (most also courtesy of Marvel), the question of why there aren’t more gay superheroes in movies and on TV demands to be asked.

While it’s encouraging that we are somewhat beyond the point where we need to ask why there isn’t more LGBTQ representation on television as a whole—shows like Looking, Orange Is The New Black, Grey’s Anatomy, Orphan Black, Modern Family, and others being on the front lines of that particular cultural war—we’re still a long way from universal acceptance. From a world where all forms of sexuality are categorized under the banner of mere sexuality, with no sense of otherness or alternatives to the norm. Still, many shows only have one token gay character, or one gay character plus a revolving door of love interests. This is hardly progress.

In the case of Arrow and Revenge, homosexuality is represented by a bisexual character who switches sides depending on narrative convenience. The depiction of bisexuality is a pervasive problem on television, since writers don’t make characters bisexual in order to say something profound, but because that way, they don’t have to add a bunch of other gay characters to the show and they can still have the character in question hook up with the opposite gender. It’s the television equivalent of getting some ass and eating it, too.

In film, unfortunately, the situation is bad. I was chatting with a friend and challenged her to come up with a movie that was about a gay couple—or had gays as the lead characters in situations unrelated to romance—in a mainstream film since Brokeback Mountain. She could not. I could not, either. Everyone thought Brokeback Mountain would open a floodgate of films where gay characters took the lead, but not one film since has dared.

Now comes word that an animated children’s fantasy film, How To Train Your Dragon 2, has a gay character. Enfin, some progress! But is it the lead character? Of course not. An important secondary character? No, not really. The comic relief? Duh. Because if anyone of significance were to be gay, then there would have to be other LGBTQ characters to support that person. They might even have to make a whole, entire film with gay characters. Break out the fainting couches, the executives are looking a little pale!

The state of affairs in non-fantastical film and television, while not exactly dire, is far from ideal. But as an avowed geek, the lack of LGBTQ representation in sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book stories pains me all the more. The very nature of the genre is to explore new worlds and new ideas, to make us feel the humanity in the alien, to underline how people made to feel other are just like everybody else, to think as far outside the box as possible. To boldly go. These writers and creators dream up the most death-defying and time-bending scenarios for their characters, but they can’t manage to squeeze in a few who aren’t heterosexual?

It’s a little bit outrageous, when you think about it. Let’s break it down:
-Marvel (Disney styles) has Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredible Hulk, Agents of Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z, Agent Carter, and four—count ’em, four—new TV series set to be streamed on Netflix within the next two years. Total LGBTQ characters: 0 (Joss, I’m calling you out for this. This isn’t like you and it stinks.)

-Fox has the X-Men—a fricking allegory about people being ostracized for being different! Total LGBTQ characters: 0 (I won’t add to your woes, Bryan Singer, but check yourself)

-Sony has the Spider-Man series, old and new school, which they are hoping to spin off into an Evil League of Evil franchise (actual name: Sinister Six). Total LGBTQ characters: 0.

-Warner Brothers/DC has Nolan’s Batman films, Snyder’s Superman film, Batman vs. Superman (with a cast of thousands) leading into an eventual Justice League, not to mention Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, and Constantine on TV. Total LGBTQ characters: 1. (Bisexual, natch. Arrow is otherwise flawless.)

(Note: I may be forgetting someone here. A couple of these shows haven’t premiered yet, so TBD. Please feel free to correct me in the comments and I will update. Still, one or two additions do not a revolution make.)

This list isn’t depressing just because it confirms that the corporate overlords who control these movies and series have succeeded in whitewashing them (people of color being poorly represented to an almost laughable degree as well). It’s depressing because it shows just how much these talented filmmakers and showrunners are lacking in the imagination department. They pay lip service to themes of diversity, self-acceptance, and what being a true hero really means, but do nothing to push those boundaries in their own work.

It’s about past time, isn’t it, that we got a little action between Cap and Bucky? (Maybe women are a thing of the past for both of them.) That Batman takes Robin in because he pushes buttons that the cowled one can no longer ignore? That Rogue figures out the person she would most want to touch her is Kitty Pride, even if she’ll never be able to? That Loki admits once and for all just why he’s so obsessed with Thor?

In the immortal words of no less than Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield:

“I was like, ‘What if MJ is a dude?’ Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking!…So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?…I’ve been obsessed with Michael B. Jordan since The Wire. He’s so charismatic and talented. It’d be even better—we’d have interracial bisexuality!”

Now that is the kind of courage and imagination I like to see in my superheroes.

Of course, this entire post was written as an excuse to show just how amazing Mr. Garfield really is. Check him out in the new video by Montreal darlings Arcade Fire, for “We Exist”, a song about someone coming out to their parents and one of my current faves:

Cheers,
Selina