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.