Doubly Vulnerable: Homeless Gay Youth

Jim Burroway

April 7th, 2008

The Columbia Spectator today has a very disturbing story about some very significant threats that some gay youth phase. This story concerns 15-year-old Drew, an “ordinary teenager” from a good neighborhood in upstate New York, a good student getting good grades. But his pretty good life took an abrupt turn when he came out to his parents:

“It all changed the night I tried to tell my parents I was gay,” he said. “My mom was pretty cool with it, but my dad just freaked out and started screaming. Then he started hitting me.”

“He’d never hit me before, never,” he sobbed, “but when I told him who I was, that I was gay, he just got so mad. He said he was going to kill me and I believed him, so I ran.”

After spending a few nights sleeping at a friend’s house, Drew returned home, hoping that things might have calmed down.

“I tried to open the door, but my key didn’t work any more. So I started knocking and eventually my dad came to the door and told me that I was no longer his son and he never wanted to see me again. He said if I ever tried to get in touch with him or my mom again he’d find me and kill me,” he explained.

He now lives on the streets of New York’s Upper West Side, where he begs strangers for food and money. He often has to exchange unsafe sexual favors for it. It’s a dangerous way to drive the live, and the dangers don’t end there:

Terrified and devastated at losing his family, Drew fled to New York City, where he hoped people might be more accepting of his sexuality. But since arriving five months ago, Drew estimates that he has been beaten up on average once a week—just for being gay.

“Mostly it’s other homeless people who do it,” he said. “They find out you’re gay, and then they wait for a chance to punish you. When I first got here I went to a shelter, but once the other kids found out I was gay they started teasing me and then one day they all ganged up on me and beat me up. We weren’t in the shelter at the time so the staff didn’t know, but now I’m too scared to go back or to try another shelter in case it happens again. I prefer to take my chances on the streets.”

The Empire State Coalition estimates that somewhere between 25% and 40% of homeless youth in New York city are LGBT youth (PDF: 378KB/100 pages). According to a 2002 report by the American Journal of Public Health (PDF: 181KB/5 pages), LGBT homeless youth are significantly more vulnerable to physical victimization, substance abuse, and psychological problems.

There are thousands of Drews all across this country. When people say that they aren’t “bashing homosexuals, but…”, it’s important to note that many parents of homeless LGBT youth will probably say the same thing. You know, they just don’t “condone” their kids “lifestyle” — a lifestyle which can often be of their own parents’ making.

If you want to know why it is so fundamentally vital to change attitudes towards acceptance in this country, just look at the face of the next homeless teen you encounter.


April 7th, 2008

If I were Drew I’d have killed my father and moved back in with my mom.

Ben in oakland

April 7th, 2008

This poor kid. What i want to know is, 1) where is his mother in all of this, and 2) where are child welfare services?

This runs very parallel in it structure to the general lack of responsibility in the straight world. They decry and condemn gay people, espeically gay men, about the excesses of the alleged “gay lifestyle”, yet they do everything in their power possible to prevent us from forming wholesome, positive relationships.

They decry and condemn from the haven of “family values”, yet this boy’s father throws him out, and his mother does nothing. good family values there.

It is yet one more indication that this is a hatred that runs so deep as the be unrecognizable as such to the people who express it.


April 7th, 2008

I have to agree with Ben and wonder where the mother is in this and where are the legal authorities. Drew’s father does not have a legal right to simply kick his son to the curb. He broke the law and the result is an abused child now living on the streets doing what he can to survive. The hypocracy is sickening.

To the larger question; how do we best reach out to these youth, mentor them, adopt them even? My partner of nearly 20 years and I now live in upstate NY, after many years in DC and in cities across Texas. We know and suppported organizations in large cities that served GLBT youth, but it is so much more difficult in less urban settings. How do we mentor before these kids get into trouble with their families and communities? I simply don’t know the answer and would appreciate some direction. We owe it to our future.

Alex M

April 7th, 2008

To answer Ben’s #2 question: where are child welfare services –

They are often run by church-sponsored organizations that are quite homophobic. Not just the child welfare services, but missions for the homeless and the like as well. I should know, I was forced to live in a couple for about a year before I got myself OUT of there. I was forced to go back into the closet while staying. If you mention your non-straight-orientation while getting yourself signed in, for any reason, they won’t let you in.

Family friendly my ass.

Alex M

April 7th, 2008

Oh, and if they find out later, they won’t do anything if you are being atacked (verbally or physically) by other homeless at the shelter.

Sorry for the double post, but had to add that in.


April 7th, 2008

Alex, I think Ben is actually referring to state agencies such as Child Protective Services (various states have their own names). These are state programs set up and charged with the duty of investigating cases of child abuse, neglect, and other such issues.

To the best of my knowledge, these state agencies are not privately sponsored, by churches or any other organization.

Alex M

April 7th, 2008

You have a point, Jarrad. I’m still bitter at the treatment I recieved, that’s all (got out three months ago). I appoligize.


April 7th, 2008

Let this be a lesson to other gays that have not yet told their parents. If your gay, you should first extract what they think about gays(That is.. if you dont want to be kicked out to the street). Which, since im not sure about my dad, im RLLY not attempting to tell him any time soon, although im already in the uni…
– – – – –

You have a point, Jarrad. I’m still bitter at the treatment I recieved, that’s all (got out three months ago). I appoligize.”

That’s sad :(, how old are you and where do you live.
– – – – –
“Drew’s father does not have a legal right to simply kick his son to the curb. He broke the law and the result is an abused child now living on the streets doing what he can to survive. The hypocracy is sickening.”

Why would anyone want to live with a dad like that. To live in constant fear(w/ ones father) or to live in constant fear(as a homeless, constantly bashed)… Surely there is some secular gay friendly environment. If not… what is the government waiting for??? A similiar thing hapened to a now diva gay person here(she has boobs now *shrug) in his childhood, only that her father pointed a gun at his head and said, “Yo no quiero maricones en mi casa”(I do not want homosexual under my roof).


April 8th, 2008

Joel – you’re right of course, Drew shouldn’t stay in a situation that’s dangerous; namely with his father. Childwelfare should be involved. Drew’s father could be arrested for child endangerment and Drew probably has the legal recourse of sueing his parents for neglect and abandonment. Any of those scenrios would put him in a better place than he is now. These kids have legal rights and protections under the law, but most don’t know it because they are shamed by family and minor authorities into believing its all their fault that this is happening. As a community, we have to stand up and say ENOUGH! We have to protect our own. God knows, too many of us have been there. Too many of our children die on the streets, physically and spiritually. We need to band together and protect them; get them off the streets and into a protective environment. And then shame and publically humiliate every parent that feels it is their right to treat their child like trash, just because they are gay.


April 8th, 2008

Jarred wrote:
Alex, I think Ben is actually referring to state agencies such as Child Protective Services (various states have their own names). These are state programs set up and charged with the duty of investigating cases of child abuse, neglect, and other such issues.

To the best of my knowledge, these state agencies are not privately sponsored, by churches or any other organization.

Alas, Michigan is one that has made the attempt of turning its Child Protective Services over to private organizations, many of which are indeed church sponsored. The reason is money. Michigan legislature struggles mightily every year to balance the budget and looks eagerly for ways to trim it.

At least in Detroit we have Ruth Ellis House and Ruth Ellis Center to house and provide a safe space for homeless gay teens. I wish they could handle the number of kids who need their services.

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