The Ongoing Plight of Homeless Queer Youth

Will 2013 be the year the gay community does something about it?

By Cathy Kristofferson, January 01, 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-01-01 at 12.52.22 PMAuthor’s note:
The epidemic of homeless queer youth is an issue I’ve followed and advocated for because to me our youth are the most vulnerable among us.  They are empowered by our successes and are coming out younger and younger into families and schools and communities not always ready for them to devastating results.  One of which is homelessness and the domino of consequences homelessness can set off.  I want to thank Melanie for offering space here on her BLOG for me to highlight and further advocate for this issue.

One further note:
I use ‘queer’ to mean everything but heterosexual, any sexual minority or questioning status, because the LGBTAtoZ commonly used, and constantly added to, shows how we are always inadvertently leaving someone out.

It’s a fairly well known fact that queer youth make up 25-40% of unaccompanied homeless youth populations on the streets in this country.  A disproportionate number when you consider they are maybe 3% of the general youth population.  Cities like New York and Hollywood both report at that 40% partly due to the fact that queer youth with nowhere to go migrate towards a place where they hope to find support when they can find absolutely none anywhere near them. Other big cities report similarly in the high %30s. But even as high and unfathomable as these numbers may seem, we know them to be under-reported.

Homeless queer youth hide; they don’t self-identify, especially not a second time if the first to their parents was a disaster. They don’t feel safe at most drop-in centers or shelters, and they certainly don’t feel safe entering State controlled services such as transitional living, foster or adoptive care.  So they often go uncounted and unreported and unseen.

Why such a disproportionate rate?  Simple.  Youth who come out to their parents are rejected by those parents at a rate of 50%, with 26% immediately thrown out of the house to become instantly homeless and many following soon after as a result of the physical and verbal abuse that ensues after their declaration.  Empowered by the gains in equality and acceptance with the heightened visibility the adult gay community has welcomed of late, youth are emboldened to come out at ever-younger ages while still reliant on parents who are a flip of the coin away from rejecting them.

Simple factors of 4 tell the story of parental rejection and its effect on queer youth homelessness:

  • 2 out of 4 will be rejected by their parents when they come out
  • 1 out of 4 will be kicked out by their parents when they come out
  • 3 out of 4 homeless queer youth will say parent objections to their orientation led to their homelessness

Youth homelessness is bad enough on its own but being queer further compounds the difficulties.  Devastating statistics like 62% of queer homeless youth attempt suicide only begin to tell the story of the additional hardship endured when compared with their heterosexual counterparts.  Queer youth experiencing homelessness are:

  • 3 times more likely to commit suicide, and 8 times more likely due to parental rejection
  • 3 times more likely to turn to prostitution and survival sex
  • 6 times higher incidents of mental health and substance abuse issues
  • 7 times more likely to experience sexual violence at a much higher risk of victimization by rape, robbery and assault

Screen Shot 2013-01-01 at 3.11.52 PMOne shocking statistic from NYC’s Hetrick-Martin Institute showed that homeless queer females aged 13-15 who they had encountered reported that 50% – HALF- were homeless because they ran away after being raped by a father or brother to ‘cure’ them.  We call that “corrective rape” when it happens somewhere else.

Facilities catering to the needs and safety of queer youth, especially trans youth, are severely lacking nationwide.  Mainstream shelters are places of abuse and trauma.  Foster and adoptive parents overwhelmingly force the youth back into the closet or throw them out again.

Washington DC has one facility for LGBT youth with 8 beds, Massachusetts has one facility with 12 beds, NYC is lucky enough to have 250 beds available to LGBT youth but that doesn’t come anywhere near accommodating the estimated 8,000 queer youth on the streets in that city.  In Atlanta, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence got so tired of waiting for the State for the Georgia and/or their legislators to act that they opened their own volunteer run 6-bed facility with 24/7 hotline.  The needs keep increasing nationwide but the federal and state money and facilities are not keeping up with worsening problems never mind making any gains for improvement.

There was a lot of hope generated last year when the federal government issued directives for better support and training of service providers and foster/adoptive parents of queer youth, and congressional hearings highlighted the many problems, but economic woes have done the opposite of what’s needed with budgets for our most vulnerable, including our youth, slashed.

Screen Shot 2013-01-01 at 3.13.42 PMIn Oct of 2011 Carl Siciliano posted a scathing letter on Huffington Post with quotes like:

“And what has been the response of the adult LGBT community? Appallingly little. ” … “Protecting homeless LGBT youth does not register on the radar of the political priorities of our movement. Our national advocacy organizations devote few, if any, resources toward homeless LGBT youth, and have developed no national strategy to respond to their horrific plight.” … “Ultimately, I see the fault lying more so with the adults in our community, as I strongly believe that if we truly made the safety and welfare of these kids a strong priority, then LGBT-supportive politicians would not dare try to throw them in the streets and jeopardize their lives to resolve their budget challenges.”

And still it seems to have fallen on deaf ears, or perhaps not registered at all.  Another year has gone by and Carl is still posting pleas online.

The  burden of homophobia directed against the LGBT community is falling to our youth.   Every time another state takes on marriage equality I cringe because more hate will fill the airwaves from churches and politicians, bombarding parents who take it out on the youth.   While there has been a great deal of response to the teen suicides due to school bullying with the It Gets Better Campaign and the Born This Way Foundation, very little attention is paid by the queer adult community to the discrimination that results in our youth being rejected by their parents and tossed out of the house, only to find homelessness and a spiral to suicide.

Screen Shot 2013-01-01 at 3.11.39 PMDo we care that once homeless our youth are 50-60% likely to drop out of school because it takes all day to find food and shelter?  What are we as the adult gay community doing to help?  This is not just a New York City or Los Angeles issue.  These youth are homeless everywhere from the big cities to the smallest rural towns.  Let’s all call our legislators to demand solutions, and let’s all contact our local homeless or social justice organization and see what we can do to help!

Cathy Kristofferson is a queer rights activist living in central Massachusetts. She is a co-State Lead of GetEQUAL MA, a board member of Join The Impact MA, and member of the Stop The Hate and Homophobia Coalition Springfield. Cathy is also a member of the Homeless Youth Task Force of the MA Coalition for the Homeless, and is working with the LGBT Working Group of the Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Commission of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Editor’s Note: A hearty welcome to Cathy Kristofferson and many thanks for this important contribution.  Please visit regularly as Cathy keeps us updated with more homeless queer youth news and information.   I appreciate the use of the word ‘queer’ to mean everything but heterosexual, any sexual minority or questioning status.  Indeed LGBT or LGBTI or GLBT is commonly used, and constantly added to, shows how we are always inadvertently leaving someone out.



Homeless queer youth | the Massachusetts Special Commission

Can Massachusetts be a case study to improve the odds for homeless queer youth?

By Cathy Kristofferson, January 09, 2013.


The epidemic of homeless queer youth is an issue I’ve followed and advocated for because to me our youth are the most vulnerable among us.  They are empowered by our successes and are coming out younger and younger to families and schools and communities not always ready for them to far too often devastating results.  One of which is homelessness and the domino of consequences homelessness can set off.

The Special Commission on Youth Homelessness – the one little piece of legislation we managed to get signed into law with the FY ’13 budget – has finally held their first meeting last week after an almost 5 month delay.  The Commission is due to issue their findings in March 2013, as specified in the law, so the delay in getting going has been frustrating for those anxious to see results. READ MORE

37 thoughts on “The Ongoing Plight of Homeless Queer Youth

  1. Thanks for writing this. You put it all way more eloquently than I ever could, and I was wondering if you’d be moved to make a petition on or the like where we could have the option to write to our various legislators a pre-written letter? I would happily promote that! I want to help, but get daunted at how to do the leg work myself. Thanks again.

    1. There have been multiple petitions on in the past for homeless queer youth both generally and specifically for certain places or threatened funding cuts. I’m not sure to their usefulness but will look into the idea. Which state are you in? Do you know whether there is any particular legislation in the works to get behind? Thanks for wanting to help!

  2. Thank you for writing this article. I do hope this gets people to make a difference. A few friends and I started The Queer Empowerment Project last year. We have been collecting supplies for The Ali Forney Center during the Holidays. If there is any way we or I can help please let me know.
    I reposted your article on The QEP facebook page. 🙂

    1. Editor: Kevin thank you for your comments on the site. And for your support and the excellent work you are doing.

    1. Thanks for the share. Yes we must continue to get this message out as the problem only ever seems to get worse with youth coming out younger and younger, and budgets being slashed with our own versions of austerity nationwide.

  3. While I don’t doubt the statistics of rejection and ejection in this article, I’m trying to deal persuasively with some people who do – people who haven’t experienced homophobia personally, and who tend conservative (not personally homophobic, but good at not seeing problems when government money might have to be part of the solution).

    Could you tell me where these statistics come from? Can you link to any studies? While you’re an expert, and your words are “experts say,” I’d like to be able to back the information up with cases and methods if possible.

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