From urban to rural, a call for increased support for LGBT youth across the US

Organizations across the country have sounded a call for a boost in support for LGBT youth, many of whom experience discrimination and homelessness. A new report was released today from Maryland by the Youth Equality Alliance (YEA), a statewide coalition of various service providers, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and advocates, calling on state officials to improve services for marginalized and bullied LGBT youth in schools, foster care, and juvenile justice systems.

An article published by the Baltimore Sun earlier today outlined the issues facing LGBT youth in Maryland and across the country. National statistics have shown that an overwhelming 40% of all homeless youth identify as LGBT, despite only 3-5% identifying as LGBT in the general population. But on top of this, a 2011 survey in Maryland by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found about 80 percent of LGBT students reported verbal harassment and 30 percent said they had been physically assaulted.

DiJohn Thomas, who spent his childhood bouncing between foster placements in Baltimore, spoke to the Baltimore Sun about his experience being openly gay in the foster system:

"I've never been homeless to the point where I had to sleep outside, but there were times when I would leave group homes and wouldn't have anywhere to go but to a friend's house, sleeping on a couch," said Thomas, who is now 21 and first entered the foster system at age 6. "Most of the time, I would fight or people wouldn't like me just because they knew I was gay."

18 year old Danielle Quackenbush spoke about the harassment she faced at school for being in a relationship with another girl:

In one incident, a teacher responded to Quackenbush being verbally harassed by simply moving the bully to the opposite side of the classroom, she said. In another, Quackenbush, said a male student threatened to assault her. "It unnerved me to the point that I didn't come to school the next day," she said.

Responding to the needs of Maryland teens like Thomas and Quackenbush, the Youth Equality Alliance joined forces with Free State Legal, an LGBT legal advocacy group, to produce today's new report, "Living in the Margins: A Report on the Challenges of LGBTQ Youth in Maryland Education, Foster Care, and Juvenile Justice Systems." Free State Legal's policy director, Diana Philip, said, "We think the state should have an interest in making sure these ... systems aren't so hostile. When youth are in their care, they want to run away."

On the other side of the country, a youth services center serving a rural area of Washington State released their own report outlining recommendations for serving rural LGBT youth experiencing homelessness. On June 3rd, Northwest Youth Services (NWYS) conducted the first Point in Time Count that sought to define a base number of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness or unstable housing in rural communities. The organization found that in Whatcom County, 24% of LGBT youth ages 12-25 are homeless or in unstable situations.

Their report, "Queer Youth Project: Recommendations Report for Serving LGBTQ Youth Experiencing Homelessness in Whatcom County," outlines the unique issues facing LGBT youth in this rural area, and provides recommendations for policies, education and training, family acceptance, faith-based support, and more. NWYS will continue to conduct Point in Time Counts in Whatcom County to establish the number of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness.

In addition, the Queer Youth Project (QYP) will be a new and rejuvenated program at NWYS designed to identify and meet the specific needs of homeless, runaway and at-risk LGBT youth in the area. According to Anya Milton, the NWYS Youth Engagement Manager:

 “More efforts need to be focused on addressing the core issues that are causing youth homelessness, especially for those facing adversity based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The QYP is here to bridge the gap in services for at-risk, homeless and runaway youth that identify as LGBTQ.”

Both the Maryland and Washington reports echo the need for greater attention to the needs of LGBT youth from coast to coast. On a national level, the Ali Forney Center, the nation's largest shelter for LGBT youth located in New York City, recently teamed up with the National Coalition for the Homeless to launch the National Campaign for Youth Shelter. The campaign calls for the prioritization of protections for homeless youth across the country, demanding a federal commitment to youth's access to safe shelter, as well as an additional 22,000 shelter beds for youth around the country.