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JULY 21, 2011: Peg's Blogs on Hiatus...

As many friends and regular readers know, I've been dealing with a lot in my personal life, lately, while my workload has continued to grow. Rest assured that I'm in the best of company, and getting by with a little help from my friends. Still, I need to take a break and focus on centering myself. That means this site will be neglected even more than it has been.

Until I'm able to get a grip on blogging regularly and thoughtfully again here (or until someone else steps in to anchor the site), I encourage people to check out Carl Toersbijns' blog (he's a former Deputy Warden for the AZ Department of Corrections, and while not an abolitionist, he's a strong advocate for the prisoners with mental illness, and for broad-based prison reform in AZ). You may also want to drop in on Middle Ground Prison Reform's site for news.

Friday, March 18, 2011

We want change, not nickels: Homelessness and queer youth.

Invisible: The Crisis of LGBTQ Youth Homelessness. (follow link for video interviews with homeless GLBT youth).

The Raw File
March 2010

According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate, the count of homeless and runaway youth ranges from 575,000 to 1.6 million per year. Out of that number, it is conservatively estimated that between 20 and 40 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

Given that between 3 and 5 percent of the American population identifies as LGBT, the figures make it starkly clear: across America, in its major cities, and suburban and rural counties, a disproportionate share of the tragedy of youth homelessness falls on the backs of LGBT young people.

Mostly poor and minority, many of these young people come from homes marred by instability, conflict, abuse, neglect, or parental drug use. In many cases, coming out as LGBT was the final factor that forced these young adults out of their homes: one-third were assaulted by a family member upon revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity, and over a quarter were kicked out of their homes outright. Having experienced this violent rejection at home, in church or school, or, in some cases, in foster care, many LGBT youth turn to the street, and its grim realities.

Too often, sex work and survival crime, drug abuse and mental illness become a part of everyday life, as animosity towards their sexual orientation or gender expression at mainstream shelters and programs effectively bars them from receiving the meager services available to homeless youth, services that might take them towards stability. By being homeless in a society that discriminates against LGBT people, these young people have been rejected twice: first by their homes, families and communities, and then by the services and systems that are supposed to help and protect them. Caught in the intersection of race, poverty, gender expression and sexuality, these young adults fight to find their way through a society that chooses not to see or help them.

In 2005, disturbed by the silence surrounding this issue and seeking to put a face on this little-known crisis, I began photographing the residents of Sylvia's Place (MCCNY Homeless Youth Services: Sylvia's Place), New York City's only emergency shelter for homeless LGBT youth; its 30 beds comprise over half of the shelter space specifically designated for the upwards of 8,000 homeless young LGBT people in New York City. Using the shelter as a “home base”, I have spent countless hours with these young people, bearing witness to hidden and intimate aspects of their existence: working as a prostitute on “the stroll”; crying at the grave of the mother that left them too soon; kissing their new boyfriend; spending a last Mother's Day with children that they will never see again; moments of introspection. By eschewing exploitative visual stereotypes of homelessness, youth, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and especially gender non-conformity, I believe that these images truthfully show the urgency of their lives.

In a perfect world, these young people would not be ignored: we would all be aware, not only of their daily struggles, but also of the hope that they have for their future selves. It is my hope that these images can bring awareness to the crisis of LGBT youth homelessness, and thus bring about positive change in the lives of this neglected population.

Samantha Box is a 2010 fellow in Photography from the New York Foundation for the Arts

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