Lake View Presbyterian Church, a welcoming and affirming More Light church in Chicago, hosts a ministry that connects supportive, affirming adults with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth. “Acceptance and inclusion are essential to the overall safety, health and well-being of all kids — especially LGBTQ kids,” wrote HRC Family Project director Ellen Kahn in a recent Youth Today article. “Having at least one supportive, affirming adult standing by them is life-changing, and sometimes life-saving.”
Statistics for homelessness among LGBTQ youth illustrates the importance of Lake View Presbyterian Church’s outreach in Chicago. For the first time, San Francisco’s biennial homeless count included the number of homeless people who identify as LGBTQ. Of the 6,436 people counted, 1,000 or 29% identified as LGBTQ. Homeless advocates say that the percentage may be even higher among young people. A 2006 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force study suggests that between 20 percent and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
“It’s great to finally have these numbers. What we get from this is that homelessness is a queer issue,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “And when we look at our system, it’s not particularly gay-friendly.”
She’s talked to gay and lesbian people who experienced homophobia in homeless shelters, and she said that transgender people staying in shelters experience abuse at “three times the rate” of straight people…
Anecdotally, many people who work with the homeless said it’s common to see teens who have been kicked out of their homes after coming out to their parents, or who have run away from other parts of the country to San Francisco, where they know they’ll feel more welcome.
“A lot of them just want to go somewhere where they’re more accepted,” said Mary Howe, executive director of the Haight Ashbury Youth Alliance, who said that up to half the homeless young people she sees are gay. “Most of them leave with very little, and they make communities out of who they meet on the street.”
Café Pride is Chicago’s gathering place for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer youths, and their friends, 16 to 24 years old. It is 100% volunteer-run by members of the Lakeview Presbyterian Church community.
Open from 8:00 pm to midnight on Friday nights, Café Pride attracts youth from all over the Chicagoland area to come and be accepted as they are, to play cards, watch a movie, or just hang out! Most nights include small conversation groups.
“Café Pride is a ministry of gay and straight people with the conviction that growing up requires a lot of mental and emotional work. We believe that sometimes that work is best accomplished in a safe space where other pressures can be ignored. We do believe in encouraging spirituality among all persons, but we aren’t trying to convert anyone to any one religious tradition. (Although we’ve been known to make fun of really bad haircuts.)”
Ellen Kahn provides addition advice to adults and communities of faith about providing a place for all young people to thrive and succeed.
What would it take for you to be in that role, to be an ally for a young LGBTQ person? On a broader scale, what would it take for your organization, school, or agency to become a truly welcoming and affirming place for all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression? …
It takes a lot of courage for LGBTQ youth to come out to adults, and most have had at least one negative experience when coming out to family members, friends or other adults. If a young person discloses to you that he or she is LGBT or questioning, handle that information with the highest level of privacy and confidentiality. You can ask whether the young person is out to other people and help him/her assess when and if it is safe to come out to others. And if you cannot do this personally, find someone in your agency who can.
Learn about community resources that may be helpful to LGBTQ youth. Do you know of local support groups for LGBTQ youth? Are there particular pediatricians, mental-health providers or programs that are LGBTQ culturally competent and affirming? Are there safe places LGBTQ youth can congregate and develop positive peer relationships with other LGBTQ youth? What about homeless services for young people who are kicked out of their homes?
Finally, take the temperature of your own organization to determine whether you are doing what you can to welcome and affirm LGBTQ youth and their family members. Review your organization’s written policies and practice guidelines: Do you have a non-discrimination policy or statement that includes sexual orientation and gender identity for staff, volunteers and clients? Do you provide staff training and professional development opportunities to prepare staff with the skills and competencies to support LGBTQ youth? Are there any posters, magazines or other materials in your space that would signal to LGBT teens that they are welcome? Creating a welcoming environment is an essential first step to ensuring that LGBTQ youth can fully participate and benefit from the services and programs you provide.