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It may not be a topic that fills the community with pride, but it’s certainly relevant: LGBT youth homelessness. That’s the topic the community will tackle Thursday, May 31, when The DC Center and Capital Pride continue the annual Pride season tradition of town-hall events.
With LGBT young people making up a disproportionately high number of homeless youth – 20 to 40 percent, looking at data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, as reported by the Center for American Progress – it’s a pressing issue.
”Anytime we get to highlight the issue is great,” says Brian Watson, who runs Transgender Health Empowerment’s Wanda Alston House, D.C.’s only dedicated transitional housing for LGBT and questioning youth.
While Watson, who will serve as a town-hall panelist, is pleased that the community will be discussing the very problem he addresses daily, he knows that it will take more than discussion to make a dent in LGBT youth homelessness.
”For us to have one house with eight beds is putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound,” he says of Wanda Alston House, named for the first person to head the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs. ”If we had more resources to house LGBTQ homeless youth, it would be a wonderful thing.”
Tre’ona Kelty, founder of Beautiful U Yes U, a community organization with a mission of enhancing girls’ self-esteem, is also serving on the town-hall panel. The message she wants to emphasize is one for the parents of LGBT youth.
”Both of my parents are ministers. When I came out, it was hard, but they didn’t kick me out,” she shares. ”My message is, ‘Start the dialogue with your child.’ Don’t assume you have to kick them out, that you can’t talk.”
Beyond the parents of LGBT youth, Kelty says the issue of LGBT youth homelessness can affect the entire community.
”When you have homeless youth with no jobs, then they go to crime,” she says. ”You have these youths with no other options. It’s not the No. 1 issue, but it should be.”
Joining Kelty and Watson on the town-hall panel will be Amena Johnson and Leandrea Gilliam of D.C.’s Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), and Jeff Krehely, director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. Sean Bugg, co-publisher and editorial director of Metro Weekly, will moderate.
Watson, while pointing out that Wanda Alston House has a wait-list of 20 youths at the moment – only five of whom he’s confident he can locate, due to kids running out of cell phone minutes, not having regular access to email, and the other pitfalls of their unstable situations – emphasizes that homelessness among LGBT youth may not seem a pressing issue to some, but that’s largely a result of those youths keeping out of sight, out of mind.
”We don’t necessarily see a lot of gay youth homeless on the street,” he says. ”We’re savvy people. We know how to do what we need to do to survive.
”But we need to provide more support when they come out. We tell them you can be independent and to accept who you are, and there is that chance their parents may put them out. We’re not providing a lot of places for LGBT youth to go.”
The LGBT Youth Homelessness Town Hall Meeting is Thursday, May 31, 7 p.m., at Hotel Palomar, Phillips Classroom, 2121 P St. NW. For more information, call 202-682-2245 or visit thedccenter.org.