Guest author Raquel (Rocki) Simões is a white Brazilian butch who came to the United States in the late 80s, fell in love with women and Rice Krispies treats (not necessarily in that order) and decided to stay. Most of her community organizing work has focused on queer youth and homelessness. Most of her personal work has focused on being a loving friend, partner, ex-partner, anti-racist community member, and parent. On a good day she does some of these things well.
Why are so many LGBTQ youth homeless? Chances are the F word came to mind – family.
During this last year I have had many conversations with queer youth, organizers, and advocates about the ramifications of a narrative we have highlighted for years: queer youth homelessness exists because of family rejection. Though the clarity of this truth is compelling and effective when it comes to raising awareness and gaining community support and funding, we are long overdue for a deeper and more nuanced national conversation. Just this last month, as I talked to a co-worker about wanting to do better around this ‘deepening’ in relationship to my work with the GLBT Host Home Program (or GLBT HHP), her response made me yet again recognize the extent to which we have attached ourselves to a clear-cut story of rejection. Her words: “You will have a harder time recruiting hosts.”
And I am afraid that she is right.
For some context: the GLBT HHP is a community- and volunteer-based housing program in the Twin Cities that matches young queer and trans people experiencing homelessness to people who have an extra bedroom in their homes.
So why would a more nuanced dialogue about queer and trans youth who are experiencing homelessness (most of whom are youth of color) potentially hinder our opportunities for recruiting future hosts (most of whom here in Minnesota are white and middle-class)? Because many in our community want to hold on to the belief that once a queer youth is safely housed and nurtured, success, as defined by caring adults and youth workers, is right around the corner. A more layered conversation would mean recognizing and understanding that such an assumption is likely not true for most of the queer youth who are youth of color.
For many of us who are white and LGBTQ, sharing our homes and growing to love – in a familial and personal way – a young trans woman of color means experiencing profound heart-break as we witness just how much the system fails them, especially systems that have largely worked for us. It is indeed less painful for some of us to cling to family rejection as the sole reason for their situation. Family rejection is a truth that we can potentially share, relate to, and build community around.
Though the last thing I want to do is disrespect or minimize this truth and the power of connection and healing that can arise from it, now is the time to complicate how we talk about LGBTQ youth homelessness within a larger movement-building context. I have learned much in the last 20 years and have made many mistakes, including simplifying the stories of the young people with whom I have worked. The GLBT HHP, for example, is still talked about by many as a program that specifically addresses housing for LGBTQ youth who have been kicked out of their homes. What I have learned, though, is that their stories and connections to family of origin, however tenuous or conflicted or abusive or beautiful, are layered and not easily nor neatly packaged. And I am not even tackling the adoption and foster care systems here (so much for ‘deepening’, right?).
My specific concerns about the overwhelming presence of the reductive family-rejection narrative are two-fold: 1) since most queer and trans youth who are homeless in this country (or remain homeless for longer times) are youth of color, are we reinforcing the dangerous belief held by many in the white LGBTQ community that communities of color are more homophobic and transphobic? 2) are we unintentionally creating a hierarchical system of who deserves our support and what youth need to say/not say about their situation as they seek support?
Have we created a culture wherein we are more willing to embrace and love a ‘courageous’ queer youth whose parent has kicked them out specifically due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity than a ‘chronically homeless’ queer youth who has a criminal record, or whose mother is mentally ill, or poor and unemployed, or facing deportation, or recently evicted, who may or may not be experiencing added conflict related to coming out issues?
The whole truth of those stories require us – especially the white LGBTQ community and social service organizations – to organize efforts that go far beyond love and acceptance and cultural competency. And that is much harder to do. Please don’t get me wrong – we all need love and acceptance. But that will not end queer youth homelessness.
When we stop making families the enemy, intentionally or not, and truly engage with the systemic and generational disparities and under-resourcing that many families/communities are experiencing, then maybe we can shape responses and create spaces where queer and trans youth are able to share their whole selves, their whole truths – however difficult and complex – and still feel the love.
[FEATURED PHOTO CREDIT: ROCKI SIMÕES]