Why the Media Should Care About LGBT Youth Who Are Homeless

A new report has been released that sheds light on youth who are LGBT and homeless, and GLAAD is calling on the media to bring more attention to this epidemic, the unique problems that such teens and young adults face, and potential solutions, as outlined in the report.

Put out by UCLA’s Williams Institute, The Palette Fund, and True Colors Fund, the report includes key findings on who is homeless, why, the services they use, and the services to which they lack access. The nearly 400 respondents from over 350 agencies around the country indicated that a full 40% of their clients self-identified as LGBT. An astounding 89% of these clients had either run away or were forced from their homes because their families rejected their sexual orientation or gender identity. One third also indicated having been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused at home.

More than 40% of homeless agencies, however, do not address these and other family-based issues.

The report, “Serving Our Youth: Findings from a National Survey of Services Providers Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth Who Are Homeless or At Risk of Becoming Homeless,” names issues that are unique to or exacerbated for the LGBT population of youth who face homelessness. For example, close to 80% of respondents indicated that their transgender clients were either in “worse” or “much worse” physical and mental overall health than non-LGBT clients.

Only one quarter of the programs offered by youth-serving agencies are specifically designed for LGBT clients.

Five of the six most cited barriers to improving services related to reducing homelessness for LGBT youth, as indicated by the respondents, had to do with lack of funding. Close to one third of the surveyed agencies receive no federal support, one quarter receive no city or county support, and one fifth receive no state support.

Within hours of the Williams Institute sending out its press release, the story was picked up by Center for American Progress, Think Progress, Erie Gay News, and The New Civil Rights Movement. It seems, though, that no mainstream news outlets have covered this report. This is upsetting, of course, but not entirely shocking. Teens and young adults, people who are LGBT, and people who are homeless are often left behind in many aspects of life, denied services, or denied their voices.

In the past year however, this homelessness epidemic has received some awareness-raising national media attention. In May, music legend Linda Perry spoke and sang about the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center on The Talk, moving the hosts to tears. PBS and NPR also brought attention to the topic and shared stories of young LGBT victims of homelessness. GLAAD has commended local outlets such as New York’s Amsterdam News as well as Miami’s CBS affiliate for their coverage of the epidemic. Cyndi Lauper, co-founder of the True Colors Fund, works to end the crisis with the recently-launched Forty to None Project and, most recently, the White House honored Carl Siciliano, the founder of the Ali Forney Center, for his devotion to homeless LGBT youth.

More often than not, however, it is left up to community members like clergy, student organizations, or homeless youth themselves to raise awareness.

Such community-based support is necessary to chip away at this housing crisis for LGBT teens and young adults. Without greater attention from national media and a greater awareness about the causes and consequences of LGBT youth homelessness, though, the problems will likely persist and services will continue to be inadequate.

“Working with limited resources clearly impacts the ability of agencies to provide LGBT youth with services that they may be most likely to require or use,” says the report, highlighting the effects of inadequate funding. “The housing programs identified as having the highest percentage of LGBT clients—host home services and permanent housing—are the ones least likely to be offered by participating agencies and among the least likely to be supported by government funding.”

The report should serve as a call to action for everyone to Give A Damn, as Cyndi might say, about youth who are homeless and LGBT. To enable action, people must first be educated on the problem at hand. This cannot happen effectively if the media continues to ignore the findings of “Serving Our Youth.”