By Mitch Kellaway
Originally published on Advocate.com June 23 2014 11:23 AM ET
Last week, visitors to Times Square were greeted with something more than the usual flashing lights of theater ads: the faces of LGBT youth in the foster care system who are seeking permanent homes.
In conjunction with Pride month, Heart Gallery NYC exhibited the photos in a series titled "Forever Families." Taken by a group of celebrity photographers, the images of 12 LGBT youth (in addition to 24 other youth) were displayed in the Times Square Museum and Visitor Center from June 10 through June 20, with some even projected on the Square's massive Jumbotron.
"This exhibition is about honoring the nearly 12,000 NYC children living in foster care and the hundreds waiting and ready to be adopted," said Laurie Sherman Graff, executive director of the Heart Gallery NYC, in a statement. "We're hoping that same-sex or heterosexual couples will step up to fulfill the children's dream of finding 'forever families.'"
While the Gallery is known for displaying and traveling with expressive, banner-sized images of fostered youth in hopes of inspiring prospective adoptive parents, this exhibit's particular focus on LGBTQ youth is vital. According to Graff, their Pride exhibit "play[ed] a critical role in fostering the understanding needed by LGBTQ young adults and youth. They often face isolation during the most vulnerable time of their lives."
Meet some of the young people seeking "forever homes" on the following page.
The statistics on LGBT youth show how necessary projects like "Forever Families" are. In an April memorandum published by New York City's Administration for Children's Services, Commissioner Gladys Carrion noted that 26 percent of youth who come out as LGBT are forced to leave their homes.
Once such youth find their way into the foster care system, the need for a safe, loving, stable environment becomes especially critical. Carrion points out that 78 percent of LGBT youth face bias or harassment in their foster care placements because of their sexuality or gender identity.
These trends are not just local to New York City. A 2010 report published by the Center for American Progress found that homeless LGBT youth — who, on average, are forced from their homes between ages 13 and 14 — are overrepresented among the overall homeless youth LGBT population, accounting for 20 to 40 percent of the group (as compared to 5 to 10 percent of the non-homeless population). Issues unique to LGBT youth, including rejection by family and harassment at school, contributed to the inflated numbers.
Below are just a fraction of New York City's LGBT youth who need forever families. Prospective parents who want more information about the adoption process can find it on Heart Gallery NYC's website.