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.