“You have to acknowledge that the struggle for LGBTQ youth of color is not the same” says Gabriel Maldonado, CEO and Executive Director of TruEvolution. Gabriel has worked with a lot of homeless youth in the Southern California area and seen a great deal of the struggle that many of these youth have live through. “You have to understand the greater issues that are not being talked about when we address homeless youth” says Gabriel. “It’s the history of how people of color have struggled, have been treated, and how it is passed down to our queer youth. It is all a system.”
The Nuance of Identity
There have been several studies done to address the issues that homeless youth face. One study reported that 60 percent of homeless youth spend multiple years living out on the streets while being raped, robbed, or otherwise assaulted. A great concern is that nearly half of those who identify as homeless youth are apart of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or genderqueer community.
Reports show that many queer youth are leaving their families home in part because of the abuse and family conflict they incur once coming out as queer or trans. According to this study, 50 percent of queer teens experienced a negative reaction from their parents when they came out while 26 percent shared that they were kicked out of their homes or asked to leave.
But there are greater issues that no one ever discusses when mentioning the topic of youth and homelessness. Gabriel explains, “We know that there are higher numbers of QTPoC youth who are homeless, yet nothing related to what makes them more vulnerable to being homeless is ever reported in said studies”. As Gabriel points out, very little research is being done around what specifically makes a QTPoC youth homeless and why this epidemic is being ignored both in research and in society.
Michelle Page writes that in order for anyone to fully address the issue of QTPoC youth homelessness, we have to address the societal issues that QTPoC face that often lead them to being homeless. By acknowledging concepts of intersectionality and critical race theory, we learn about problems of subordination and discrimination that QTPOC face within the multiple layers of both their sexual and gender identity.
We have to acknowledge that when talking about youth homeless and QTPoC identity, we must first acknowledge the oppression they face. But we can’t address the layers of oppression from a single-axis approach. Many of the things that QTPoC youth face in relation to their lived experiences parallel the reasons why they might be homeless or why they may not trust the system that is in place, a system that is supposed to help them but often does not--you cannot decouple their broader experience from the specific issue of homelessness.
We have to understand that the widespread homelessness that we see in relation to QTPoC youth is related to the convergence of their oppressed identities and how they are treated both inside and outside of the home. A majority of homeless queer youth have shared that they come from extremely disenfranchised backgrounds with little to no experiences of positive home life.
According to the whitepaper done by Advocates for Youth, a number of the factors that create toxic environments for queer & trans youth of color is related to the interactions they have with both their family, and the way society treats them after they come out. It was found that QTPoC youth are significantly less likely to share information about their queer identity with their family, explaining that while 80 percent of white youth are out to their parents and have experiences a positive response, only 71 percent of Latinos and 61 percent of African Americans have disclosed elements of their queer identity to their families. The number is even less when discussing the stigma that being queer creates for Asian/Pacific Islander individuals, noting that only 51 percent of them are out to their families.
The common thread for most QTPoC youth who disclose to their families? Not only do they struggle to navigate both their racial and queer identity, but they seem to always have negative experiences with their families once they decide to come out.
Navigating the System
There is a rarely discussed aspect of the conversation around QTPoC youth homelessness. It is that the majority of homeless QTPoC youth have spent most of their youth navigating systems of oppression and would rather be homeless than continue to put up with the pain of said systems.
This system of oppression includes unwelcoming families, unsafe schools, unearthed officials and unsympathetic courts. Even greater, many QTPoC youth are from foster systems that are ill equipped to work with QTPoC youth, the struggles QTPoC youth have in relation to sexual and gender identity, and how QTPoC youth negotiate the struggles of racial injustice that they meet as members of a marginalized racial or ethnic group.
One report noted that one of the greatest reasons that many QTPoC youth are homeless is not just about the lack of acceptance that they face, but because of the ways that systematic oppression continues to keep marginalized people in a poor mindstate.
Another common reason why QTPoC youth are homeless is because of the lack of state level protection that LGBTQ+ people of color have. From poor access to quality education, to the foster care system in America treating all of those involved as a means to an end, QTPoC youth have always been at risk. Let us not even begin to discuss the extremely high levels of sexual abuse and sexual violence that QTPOC youth experience at the hands of trusted family members.
While the law states that it is supposed to serve and protect us, QTPoC youth continue to be victimized.
It is incumbent upon us to understand that QTPoC youth becoming homeless is about lacking access to resources; it is about the ways that society continues to fail people of color; it is about the way the system has failed queer people in terms of proper representation; it is about the ways society continue to ignore QTPoC people and the injustices they live through.
We must understand that the system was never built for people of color to succeed, so when adding in the queer component, it only means we become more expendable to a system that has never seen us as whole in the first place. We have to acknowledge that the root cause of QTPoC youth homeless is related to the disparities that Black, Indigenous, & other People of Color (BIPoC) continue to face and have always faced, acknowledge that QTPoC aren’t being kept out of the data by default but that society has always failed to acknowledge our existence, our struggle, and our livelihood.
A sad reality is that many QTPoC youth have never been in a place in their lives where the words “love” and “home” represent something positive. Society has never been kind to marginalized people as a whole, so this only complicates the issue when we begin to resolve ways to help QTPoC youth get off the street.
“We have to stop looking at this as a single subject issue” Gabriel noted. “We have to acknowledge that the we can’t talk about homelessness in the same context of adults. We can’t talk about it in the same context of how we address it with white queer people when the risk for simply living is so high for LGBTQ youth of color”.
We must begin to understand that homelessness means something different for queer youth of color. We must understand that we can’t use single-subject solutions to this multi-layered issue because as noted by Audre Lorde, queer people of color lead complex and multifaceted lives.
We must acknowledge that any type of program that address QTPoC youth must be a program that has a robust strategy that not only encompasses cultural competency, but also understands the intersectional pain that QTPoC youth have experienced. We also need programs that not just about service delivery, but committed to giving QTPoC youth a chance at having a life off of the streets. Moreover, we need to remember to synthesize the movement and work collectively with programs that comprehend the full need of QTPoC youth who are homeless.
We must be willing to work collectively to end the homeless of QTPoC youth and that begins only when we acknowledge the roots of the issue and the struggle..
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