AFC's annual campaign that draws attention to the struggles of homeless LGBT youth in New York City, who will be spending this holiday season much differently from many of their peers - without support from their families or a place to live, just because of who they are.
Patrick hated wearing dresses. He was born female but the idea of being a girl never made sense to him. From as early as kindergarten Patrick's school teachers would send notes home telling his parents that Patrick insisted he was male and that he would lash out if he was forced to line up with the girls.
Patrick's gender expression created a great deal of conflict for his parents. Living in small town in upstate New York, Patrick's family had little resources to support their child. Patrick grew up tormented. He cut up dresses, threw away dolls and stole his brother's toys. In fact, Patrick can't remember a time when he didn't feel turmoil related to his gender.
One school counselor suggested to his parents that they allow him the opportunity to live as a boy. His parents response was that his "gender confusion" was a "stage." This enraged him and ignited a downward spiral of drug use, uncontrollable aggression and alienation from his family and school.
By the age of 17 Patrick was so afflicted by the lack of support and concern from his parents that he preferred to live on the streets where he recognized he wasn't safe but at least he could be himself.
Patrick eventually made his way to NYC where he met other homeless kids like him.
LGBT homeless youth are 8 times more likely than their non-LGBT counterparts to experience drug abuse, violence, HIV infection and suicidal ideation on the streets.
Patrick has had a difficult journey connecting with services. One of AFC's Outreach Workers started making contact with Patrick on the streets and agreed to meet once a week on the streets where they would provide Patrick with food, hand warmers and blankets. Building a relationship with someone that affirmed his gender and accepted him was very important for Patrick.
Patrick's first visit to our 24 Hour Drop In Center in Harlem was sparked by a three day drug binge. Patrick had hit rock bottom. Upon arrival Patrick was offered a place to rest and attended a substance abuse support group. Within a month Patrick was enrolled in our Substance Abuse Counseling Program and was taking steps to begin to rebuild his life.
Today Patrick is on the road to recovery. He is living at one of our Emergency Housing Sites and has even enrolled in our education and career services. At 20 years old, Patrick has a seventh grade reading level. Patrick is receiving the remedial service he needs to be able to enroll in a High School Equivalency Program.
Justin is the youngest of six siblings. He grew up in a housing projects in the Bronx. His mother didn't spend much time at home. He was a street kid.
From as young as he can remember he was picked on for "acting like a girl." His siblings would taunt him, telling him to "man up." He grew up quiet and withdrawn.
As he got older, kids in school would beat him up. There were few places he could walk where kids didn't throw things at him. Books, rocks, and even full soda cans have been hurled at him.
His mother forced him to go to school because it was her only way of feeding him. Justin dreaded the cafeteria and would stuff his lunch into his book bag or pockets to avoid having to sit and eat with the other kids.
When he confided in his mother what was happening at school and on the streets, she told him to "toughen up" and that she didn't want a "girly boy" as a son. She too was trying to get him to change the way he acted.
By middle school Justin was skipping school regularly and riding the subways throughout the city to avoid the bullying and his home.
At 16, Justin was malnourished, had a fourth grade reading level and had no real connection with people.
It was on one Christmas Eve when it occurred to him that he was homeless. He spent the day riding the trains watching people loaded with gifts and food on their way to celebrate the holiday. His only thought was that he didn't belong anywhere.
One of our outreach workers made contact with Justin on the streets. Justin was reluctant to come in for care. It took several encounters for Justin to finally agree to visit our Drop In Center. His world changed. He had never walked into a room with youths his age without being bullied. He came into a place of LGBT acceptance and support that he had never imagined.
Homophobia and transphobia not only affects our youths health and emotional well being, it places them at greater disadvantages in life. Nearly 30% of LGBT youth in our country skip school because of LGBT bullying. 9 of 10 report feeling unsafe at school and struggle to remain engaged academically.
Justin is enrolled in our educational services. His reading is improving as is his connection with people. He will be spending this Christmas with us where he has a bed in our Emergency Shelter Program. He still doesn't say too much but he's making friends and knows he is supported and embraced for being who he is.
Martina grew up on a farm in rural Ohio in a town with a population of 800 people. From as young as she can remember, Martina felt conflicted with her birth gender. She says she never felt like a boy and loved looking in the mirror because she felt she could look into herself and see the woman she would become.
Martina's family was very religious, before setting out to tend to the farm or to head to school her father would gather her and her six siblings around in a circle to read passages to the bible to them and pray. If someone in the family was having an issue her father would pray for that person.
As Martina got older she started becoming the target of the family's prayers. Her father started addressing Martina in asking god to "fix the sissy" and "make his boy a man."
The first time it happened Martina's heart froze and for as much as she tried to hide it her face was red and overflowing with tears. This went on for nearly two years and was accompanied by evening prayers with her parents.
By her 18th birthday Martina no longer liked looking in the mirror. Whenever she was alone she would cry uncontrollably. She often thought of ending her life. On one of the many nights she cried herself to sleep Martina had a dream that she would move to New York and become famous and that her father told her that he loved her.
The dream would become Martina's only focus and by the end of the month Martina secretly packed her car and made the nearly 12 hour drive to New York City. She slept in her car for four nights before being connected to us by one of our outreach workers. Martina cried the first time she met one of our transgender staff members. She had never met anyone like her in person.
Family Rejection is the leading cause of LGBT youth homelessness. The youth who come to AFC for help and shelter face trauma in many forms while homeless ranging from the lack of a safe place to sleep to having no access to food, but no trauma is more severe than the lack of acceptance and love from their families.
Martina is doing well. She's working as a hostess at a diner. She is enrolled in our Transgender Support Services and is on a waiting list to enter our Transgender Housing Program. She is still working on her dream of having her father's love again.
Antonio was raised by his mother, a person who loved and celebrated him from the day he was born. They had a very close relationship. There was nothing he couldn't tell his mom. When he was 12 he told her he liked boys. She cried. She was was happy for him to have the courage to tell her something she knew so many other boys like him could never tell their mothers. Antonio's mom became an activist for LGBT youth and especially for her son. She worked with his school, church and within the community to ensure he had the support he needed. If anyone had an issue with her gay son they would have to take it up with her.
Shortly after Antonio's 14th birthday his mother was diagnosed with cancer and died. Antonio's world drastically changed. Lacking family in this country Antonio made it into a foster home. His social worker made no effort to find him a placement that would be supportive of his identity. In fact, he felt that she was homophobic and he once overheard her mock him.
Antonio would be placed in three foster care homes throughout his time in the system. In the three years he was in the system he encountered homophobia and rejection in ways he never new existed. With each placement Antonio grew more and more depressed and anxious. The grief of losing his mother was compounded by being forced into a life of having to hide his identity. His last foster parent was physically abusive and often taunted him for being gay.
He remembers his last Christmas in the system. His foster mother lined up the boys and girls at different tables to receive their gifts. She told Antonio to sit at the girls' table so he can get a girl gift like his mother would have given him. The kids in the foster home laughed. Antonio could not hide his pain and broke down into tears.
Six months before his 18th birthday, his social worker informed Antonio that he was considered independent and had six months to leave the system. Antonio was lost. He tried to get into college and applied for financial aid for room and board but the timing of his application wouldn't align with his need for shelter. One week after his 18th birthday Antonio was "unstably housed," a term used to describe someone who, like Antonio, has no real home and is on the brink of homelessness. Antonio slept on friends' couches, while working part-time jobs and waiting for the school year to start.
As his living situation became more bleak, Antonio started meeting men online to piece together places where to sleep. Lacking support during the most crucial times in a teenager's life and struggling to stay off of the streets, Antonio missed deadlines for his college application process. Antonio never made it college with his peers.
Antonio started searching for help on the internet where he found AFC. Within hours of contacting us by phone, Antonio was on his way to one of our shelter sites where a bed was waiting for him. The next day he was connected to our educational support services program where a dedicated team of staff helped him file for an extension for financial aid so that he cold focus on mental health support and healing.
In the United States the average coming-out age is 12 years old. Youth are emboldened and empowered to come out in part because of the progress of the LGBT movement. Unfortunately for young people like Antonio the system they relay on when in need are still very homophobic, transphobic, and unsafe for them.
Antonio started college this year and is doing very well. Antonio will be living with us until next fall when, with our help, he will move on campus. Antonio says he hadn't felt the love and support for being gay since his mother died until he came to AFC.
Caution, this case study describes transphobic violence and abuse, and may be triggering for some readers.
Carmen's first night on the streets as a homeless transgender woman ended with her first visit to the ER. She had fallen asleep on a park bench when two young men dragged her from the bench and started kicking and punching her. "That's not a woman, that's a man!" was the only thing she remembers hearing repeatedly as they pummeled her. She spent the entire attack holding her arms over her head to protect her face, by the time it was over they had ripped her clothes off and torn open the garbage bag where she had her only possessions strewing her things throughout the park as they ran laughing and calling her a faggot.
After graduating from high school, Carmen started to affirm her gender and began living as a woman outside of her home. Carmen would travel several miles away from her neighborhood and find a public restroom where she would put on woman's clothing and make up. Slowly Carmen began to embrace herself and started arriving at home presenting more and more in her true gender. On the day of her attack in the park Carmen arrived home to find her belongings outside in a garbage bag with a letter from her mother telling her that she needed to move because did not approve of the way she was "living her life." Carmen tried to let herself in but the locks were changed. Carmen was in shock. Her first stop was to a huge warehouse shelter in NYC. Carmen barely made it inside without being harassed by men outside the shelter. As she was waiting to speak to someone at the shelter a fight broke out between the dozens of other homeless kids in the courtyard.
At 20 years old Carmen had never experienced violence. Carmen still numb about being kicked out of her home was now in shock at facing her reality of being homeless and having to fear for her safety. Carmen would be attacked three more times on the streets before being connected to AFC by a hospital social worker.
Upon arriving at our Drop In Center, Carmen was connected to mental health services and AFC's transgender support services which includes hormone replacement therapy at our on-site medical clinic, Beauty School Support Group that addresses gender identity and self care, self defense training specially designed for homeless LGBT youth and even a Career and Education Readiness Program with specific supports for transgender individuals entering the workforce.
Violence is no stranger to homeless LGBT youth, in fact homeless LGBT youth are 8 times more likely to experience violence on the streets than their non-LGBT counterparts. In the United States transgender individuals experiences unemployment at nearly four times the national average. AFC offers the nation's largest and most comprehensive services for homeless LGBT youth.Carmen is doing better now. She is living in our Transgender Housing Program and is working a retail job. She wants to open a beauty salon solely for transgender women in NYC. AFC is here to support her dreams and help her every step of the way.
Homeless for the Holidays is an annual campaign launched by the Ali Forney Center to give a voice to the thousands of homeless LGBT youths on the streets of our country. During the holidays many of the young people who call AFC home feel a greater sense of rejection and abandonedment by their families. It is during this time where many of our youths experience greater episodes of depression, anxiety, drug use and suidical thoughts. It is also during this time that we tell their stories to help raise awareness of the issues of LGBT youth homelessness.
Benjamin remembers being in elementary school when kids started bullying him for "acting like a girl." His father was no different, often telling him to "man up." Benjamin was raised in North Carolina in a religious community whose views on LGBT individuals was unsupportive, unwelcoming and unsafe. Benjamin grew up struggling with his LGBT identity. In his early teens Benjamin began to experience panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. He recalls waking up one morning and feeling the need to end his life so that his parents wouldn't have to deal with having a gay son, as the day progressed Benjamin began to have a full blown psychotic episode that required hospitalization. The days following his mental health breakdown were the worst of his life, upon returning home Benjamin's father kicked him out. A counselor at the treatment facility where Benjamin was admitted told his parents that his breakdown was a result of his struggle with his homosexual identity.
Amidst ongoing and severe mental health crisis, Benjamin now found himself homeless. Benjamin, like many homeless youth, was propositioned for sex on the streets in exchange for food, shelter and money. Lacking adequate mental health services and the love and support from his family, he began to use drugs to cope with his reality. When Benjamin finally made it to the Ali Forney Center (AFC), he had been on the streets for nearly two years, he was severely malnourished, missing teeth and exhibiting signs of mental illness. Within an hour of arriving at our drop in center he was fed, showered and was seeing a doctor at our on-site medical clinic. A full health screening revealed that he tested positive for hepatitis C and HIV, so our medical team worked with Mt. Sinai hospital to have him admitted to stabilize his health. Upon being discharged from the hospital our staff was there to greet him and connect him to a bed in our Emergency Housing Shelter, he was scheduled to see our psychiatrist regularly and our case management team was working to find him a permanent home in a program for individuals living with HIV.
Benjamin is one of the thousands of youth forced out of their homes due to their LGBT identity and the prevailing homophobic and transphobic rhetoric in our country. Tragically since the beginning of the 2016 presidential election AFC has seen a 20% increase in the number of youth in need of our care and support services, we fear this is only the beginning. This holiday season, more than ever, we ask you to help us provide for our homeless LGBT youth.