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LGBT Youth Homelessness? Not The Time To Argue

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A plate of cookies much like those that won't be made and sold for LGBT youth homelessness in Berrien Springs, MI.
Sell cookies? No, you may not.

I recently learned that an unofficial student group at Andrews University has been blocked from fundraising on campus to support a regional LGBT youth homelessness organization. (Read more via Blue Nation ReviewWindy City Times, and Raw Story.)

I’ve heard for years about the differences in how heterosexual and LGBT youth experience homelessness and youth services, but I wanted the facts. So I searched organizations that focus on or have reported research on youth homelessness in the last 10 years, including Urban Peak, the National Coalition for Homelessness, the Center for American Progress, the US State Department, and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

These Are The Facts

The stats: LGBT youth are a disproportionate subset of the homeless population in the US, where Andrews University is based. They represent 20-40% of the homeless youth population: more than 320,000 people every single year (some report much higher numbers based on US government research).

For the majority of these youth, family rejection and forced eviction because of gender or sexuality is one of the most common reasons they end up on the street. Said more simply, these youth end up on the street without a safe place to sleep because their families reject and discard them. (CAP, 2010)

Nearly 60% of LGBT homeless youth report having experienced sexual violence including sexual assaults. Around 30% of heterosexual homeless youth report the same. That’s a ratio difference of 2:1—for every single heterosexual homeless youth who experiences sexual violence, two LGBT homeless youth do. The National Coalition for the Homeless and Urban Peak, Colorado both report that LGBT homeless youth were over seven times more likely to experience sexual violence. Seven times more likely.

The US State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons report notes that LGBT youth “are at particularly high risk of being forced into prostitution,” and that “cumulative effects of homophobia and discrimination make LGBT persons particularly vulnerable to traffickers who prey on the desperation of those who wish to escape social alienation and maltreatment” (pdf).

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Family and Youth Services Bureau surveyed grantees in 11 states (MA, FL, TX, AZ, CA, DC, NY, WA, NE, MN, and Chicago, IL where Project Fierce is based), and found that more than 51% of the youth being served had been asked to leave their homes by a parent or caregiver. Thirty percent of these grant-supported youth identified as LGB, 6.8% identified as transgender, and an additional 4% identified as something other than heterosexual. That report is from October 2014.

LGBT homeless youth complete suicide at 3 times the rate of heterosexual homeless youth. For every heterosexual homeless youth who completes suicide, three LGBT homeless youth do (Urban Peak, 2015).

Those are the facts.

All youth merit care.
All youth merit care.
All youth merit care.

Some of these youth are heterosexual. Some are LGBT. Though this shouldn’t matter an iota, it does.

Heterosexual and LGBT youth don’t have parallel experiences in their homes, in the foster care system, or with public or private services. These two groups have a different quality of experience and merit a different quality of support.

What Andrews Can Do Now

An Andrews University administrator has told AULL4One: “If a way can be found to serve LGBT homeless youth through an organization that more fully reflects the University’s mission and the stance of our denomination (which clearly calls for exhibiting compassion toward LGBT persons), let’s explore that.”

Yes, let’s.

When we look at the stats, the need becomes clear. I don’t know how AULL4One intends to move forward, but here’s my suggestion to Andrews University as an alumna of one of its sister schools: leave AULL4One to its work and start your own.

Andrews University has the opportunity to respond to the objective need here, to help “all” youth, including LGBT youth. If it genuinely wishes to do this, and it has said it does, there is nothing in the world stopping it.

Let’s see the university match whatever amount AULL4One raises independently, and send the matched contribution to whichever other organization it approves. Unless that other organization discriminates, LGBT youth will still be disproportionately served, because LGBT youth are disproportionately homeless.

Just as Paul, Silas, John Mark, and Barnabas did twice the work apart that Paul and Barnabas did together, perhaps Andrews University’s refusal to assist AULL4One so far can produce twice the impact the original proposal would have.

While the university decides how to contribute, I fully support AULL4One in acknowledging the subset of youth that’s disproportionately harmed by the status quo.

We’re accountable for seeing God’s image in every human being, regardless of creed. All youth merit care. Some youth are homeless, and some homeless youth are also LGBT and have disproportionately poor outcomes. Even if the facts could be argued, this is not the time to argue back. It is time to confront reality and act.

A Gap between Values and Practices

‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’
‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’—Matthew 25

As Adventists, we say we believe children and youth have “the right to a loving and stable home where there is safety and freedom from abuse” and “the right to adequate food, clothing, and shelter” (Well-being and Value of Children, 2000). We say we consider “the nurture and protection of children a sacred trust” (Nurture and Protection of Children, 2010).

In 2010, the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference Executive Committee also declared that “actions to reduce poverty and its attendant injustices are an important part of Christian social responsibility”:

“Seventh-day Adventists join the global community in supporting the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for reducing poverty by at least 50 percent by 2015. In furtherance of this, Seventh-day Adventists partner with civil society, governments and others, working together locally and globally to participate in God’s work of establishing enduring justice in a broken world.

“As followers of Christ we engage this task with determined hope, energized by God’s visionary promise of a new heaven and a new earth where there is no poverty or injustice. Seventh-day Adventists are called to live imaginatively and faithfully inside that vision of God’s Kingdom by acting to end poverty now.” —Global Poverty, June 2010

And so here we are. It’s 2015 today. The UN’s goal is unmet, but the cause is not lost. A group of Adventist students has stepped up to serve youth more vulnerable than they are: these students are partnering with others to meet a very practical challenge in their sphere of influence.

How will you help?

AULL4One leaders have just announced a stretch goal of $5,000 to support a regional youth homelessness service organization. Help them blow past this goal and impact the youth in their community!


Update: This evening, Andrews University administrators e-mailed a statement on this fundraiser to campus faculty members, staff, and students. This statement acknowledges some of the facts outlined above and notes that we don’t have to agree to protect or care for one another. Yet the statement neither supports the ongoing fundraiser nor announces a complementary one that meets its requirements of “primary alignment [with] the University’s mission and its faith commitment.”

And so the AULL4One fundraiser remains the only active campaign addressing youth homelessness that involves Andrews University students. It runs until April 7 and is a great opportunity to practice the value of compassion.

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Journey - Chapter 1