Imagine moving to a new country with your family in pursuit of a better life, only to have your parents disown you and make you homeless when they find out about your sexuality or gender identity.
This is the focus of a recent Feet in Two Worlds feature that catalogs in moving detail the personal stories of gay immigrant youth who have been made homeless due to their sexuality.
Feet in Two Worlds is an organization that tells the stories of today’s immigrant communities, and over the passed week the site has highlighted the very serious problem of LGBT immigrant youth in New York who are being made homeless after admitting their sexual orientation or gender identity to their families and their communities.
Often, LGBT immigrant youth are especially vulnerable in this regard because, while homelessness is a pervasive issue for all LGBTs, LGBTs from immigrant communities often lack support systems such as other family members that they can turn to or friends that are in a position to give them shelter and help.
From the Feet in Two Worlds article:
The most recent survey of runaway and homeless youth in New York estimates that, each night, a minimum of 3,800 youth are homeless, more than half of whom identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Within the overall homeless youth population, 15 percent were born outside of the U.S. mainland. Advocates say much of the immigrant homeless youth population identifies as lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual (LGBT).
Jim Bolas with the Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services led the 2007 survey of homeless youth.
“I think immigrant youth are going to be disproportionately affected because they have less resources elsewhere. I do think that immigrant youth have an additional challenge that even other homeless youth don’t face,” Bolas said.
For gay immigrant youth, poverty and lack of support from their families and immigrant communities make them particularly vulnerable to becoming – and staying – homeless. Margo Hirsch of the Empire State Coalition described the risks faced by these young people as a combination of poverty, cultural homophobia, religion, and a lack of community support systems.
When young LGBT people come to the U.S. and are offered the opportunity to be open about their sexuality, their families often do not follow suit, relying on behaviors and attitudes from their home countries where homosexuality may be taboo, or even violently repressed.
The article uses personal stories to relate how vital New York’s homeless programs are for LGBT immigrant youth looking to turn their lives around, and this is an example of how fortunate it was that, earlier this year, proposed cuts to New York’s youth homeless programs were dropped.
The article also details the challenges that homeless youth face and the dangers they are subjected to after being made homeless, such as feeling they have no other choice than resorting to sex work in order to feed and clothe themselves.
The Federal Response to Gay and Transgender Homeless Youth report published in 2010 found that 44% of gay or trans homeless youth would be asked to exchange sex for money, food, drugs, shelter, or clothes, compared to 26% of straight homeless youth. The report also found that 58% of homeless gay and transgender youth had been sexually assaulted, compared to 33% of homeless heterosexual youth.
While the Feet in Two Worlds article focuses on the stories of gay immigrant youth, we know that transgender people are especially vulnerable when it comes to issues like joblessness and poverty and it follows that immigrant trans youth would suffer under this same disproportionate burden.
A study published last month by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that almost half of the trans people surveyed had attempted suicide, that they had double the rate of unemployment and were four times likely to live in extreme poverty. You can read more about the study’s findings here.
Finally, you can read the full Feet in Two Worlds article here and see videos of homeless teens telling their personal stories.
Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to brainchildvn.