A few weeks ago, I came out as genderqueer. Like everyone coming out of closets, I peppered myself with anxious questions: Would my friends and colleagues accept me? Should I change my appearance? Do I change my pronoun? My name?
Thank goodness there was one question I didn’t have to ask: Where will I live? My husband has known my truth for many years and we own our own home. I am safe.
Unfortunately, this question is often critical for LGBTQ+ teens. Even today, many parents will kick them out.
In fact, 51 percent of homeless youth surveyed in a study of Phoenix and Tucson identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and 7 percent identified as transgender. Nationally, three-quarters of LGB and 90 percent of Trans homeless youth say family rejection caused their homelessness.
When families turn their backs, many young people have nowhere to go. All too often, homeless teens will remain homeless well into their 20s. In 2017, the demand for beds in Pima County by those under the age of 25 outweighed availability by more than 10 to 1.
November is National Runaway Prevention Month, when organizations around the country seek to shine a light on the issues that runaway and homeless youth face. Here are three things you or your business can do to help:
1) Register your business as a Safe Place: The National Safe Place Program has established Safe Places throughout the U.S., where young people can show up and be referred to emergency housing. Businesses like gas stations, banks, libraries, retail venues, restaurants and nonprofits can all register. This program is represented by yellow and black diamond Safe Place signs and in Pima County is administered by Our Family Services. Learn more at: ourfamilyservices.org/homeless-youth or by calling 520-323-1708.
2) Volunteer: The Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF) has a tremendous LGBTQ+ youth drop-in center on Fourth Avenue known as the Thornhill Lopez Center on 4th, at 526 N. Fourth Ave. LGBTQ+ and allied youth can show up at any time and get a hot shower, food, a clean spot to hang out with their peers, life skills and arts programming, and most importantly, a place to be themselves. You may sign up to volunteer at the center and facilitate workshops, offer career coaching, yoga, art, and other activities. SAAF also has other volunteer opportunities throughout the year (saaf.org/volunteer).
3) Donate: The programs mentioned above run on donations and there are many worthy causes just like them. Check out the LGBT&S Alliance Fund, a fund of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, to learn more about how to pool your gift with other donors, or to investigate the 75 grant awardees who have been past recipients (alliancefund.org/grants).
These are just a few resources in our community, and there is still so much more we need to do. To bring the above statistics into focus, 747 people in Pima County under the age of 25 sought housing assistance in 2017; only 72 beds were available for them.
Transitioning and coming out have proven to be a scary and tremendously bumpy time for me, but I’m grateful to be a grown-up with solid support.
I am committed to offering that same support to Tucson’s LGBTQ+ youth and hope you will join me. Together, we can change these statistics so young people don’t have to resort to the streets just for owning who they are.
Em Martin Brott is the chief development officer at Our Family Services, a nonprofit that houses and serves approximately 250 of Tucson’s homeless youth and family members every night. Em is a 2018-19 Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project.
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