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%).
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.)