Homeless to Hero: Morgan Keenan
BY Sassafras Lowrey and Jama Shelton
June 13 2014 6:00 AM ET
Every night in this country, thousands of young people sleep on the streets, in emergency shelters, in their cars, or on friends' couches, uncertain of what tomorrow will bring — and 40 percent of those young people identify as LGBT. But what happens when those young people grow up? In some incredible cases, documented in this exclusive, month-long series, those formerly homeless young people go on to become leaders in the LGBT movement, pressing our society toward greater inclusion, acceptance, and equality.
Throughout Pride month, The Advocate will feature true stories of formerly homeless queer youth who have not only survived their experience but gone on to thrive, inspire, and educate the next generation of activists. These stories will bring awareness to the ongoing crisis facing LGBT youth, and encourage openness among LGBT adults who experienced homelessness as young people.
For the past decade, author Sassafras Lowrey and social worker Jama Shelton have worked as advocates, direct service providers, and policy advisers on issues related to the epidemic of LGBT youth homelessness. Both of them also happen to be formerly homeless queer youth. And together, they are posing the question, what if today’s LGBT movement leaders were out about being formerly homeless youth? They began to answer that question in last week's installment, Meet the LGBT Leaders Who Used to Be Homeless.
This week Lowery and Shelton sat down with with Morgan Keenan, the founder and director of the Missouri GSA Network. Interviewing Keenan for The Advocate, here's what Lowery and Shelton discovered:
The Advocate: How did you become a community organizer?
Morgan Keenan: I became a community organizer kicking and screaming in the queer movement. Because of my lived experiences, I wasn’t really ready to be engaged with LGBTQ issues until I was 25. Don’t get me wrong, I worked on social justice issues like economic justice for folks in poverty who were being oppressed by payday loan sharks, and workforce development for people of color who worked as contractors in the transportation industry. But I wasn’t ready to be a part of the queer movement until I realized that being queer wasn’t the reason that I didn’t get the support I needed from my family. Instead, it was because my family didn’t know how to give me that support.
On a personal level, how does that intersect with your experiences of homelessness, running away, or being kicked out?
When I think about my experience, I know that the myth that homelessness has a singular story or face is just that: a myth. I learned quickly to survive and started to work out the survival muscle that so many other people have also had to build. My survival muscle was strong, and to this day I am still good at being resourceful. However, surviving didn’t leave a lot of room or space for building power and thriving. In my organizing, I work to do more than just survive. I demand to thrive.
Why have you chosen to be open about a being formerly homeless queer kid?
I never take the act of sharing my experiences lightly because it not only affects me, it also affects those around me, like ripples from a drop of water in a pond. I tell my story because queer young people who experience these types of situations don’t all live in big cities or find themselves in a big city through their experience. In southern Missouri, one out of every four young people in rural areas live in poverty. It’s not enough to just make it out of these situations ourselves; we have to fight to bring down the systems and institutions that make poverty and homelessness possible.