Homeless to Hero: Morgan Keenan

After struggling with homelessness and familial rejection in his youth, Morgan Keenan founded the Missouri GSA Network to help give voice to students silenced like he was.

BY Sassafras Lowrey and Jama Shelton

June 13 2014 5:00 AM ET


What considerations went into the choice to share your story?

I considered the question Why? a lot. Why me? Why now? Why not someone else? I think if we know why we do something and keep that at the center of our work, we can more easily understand the "how" and "what" part of the work we are doing. 

What have responses been? Has that changed over time?
I get a lot of hugs. I also get a lot of questions about my current relationship with my biological family. I get a lot of pity and, to be frank, very little of that feels all that good to me. I like it when people say that sucks and then stand with me to build power with queer young people in Missouri to create change. It hasn’t really changed. We have all these amazing organizations and nonprofits and we still aren’t there yet. We need to do more, give more, serve more, and invest more. 

What conversations do we feel are missing in movement conversations about LGBT youth homelessness?There is starting to be more of a connection in folks’ minds about how young people financially create their own economy when their backs are against the wall. However, there is still a value judgment in our movement. In theory, our movement gets that the criminalization of sex work and survival sex will not bring about justice. But at the same time, it is not comfortable with what markets for sex actually look like. They often mirror traditional systems of oppression and give privilege to a body based on a capitalist hierarchy. This puts young people who are or have been sex workers in a bind, especially once they become leaders. Do they disclose a history that the movement in theory accepts but in practice treats with ambivalence or even contempt? Or do they stay silent and run the risk of being outed down the road? We have to start having a more nuanced conversation about queer young people and sex work.

How do you feel the work or conversation shifts when formerly homeless LGBT youth are in the room — and able to be out about that experience ?
The bullshit meter turns on when the work involves working directly with queer youth who share these types of experiences. 

What do you hope to offer to the next generation of movement leaders? 
I hope that I can offer them tools, a network, and one more person that will listen to them as they struggle with what it looks like to be a leader.

Is there something we missed? Is there an aspect of your work that you want to share, but we didn't ask the right questions?
I guess I would also just like to speak about what it looks like for me to do this work creating a network in a state where we don’t have many good queer youth resources. In many ways, Missouri still is the three-fourths compromise state. We are building the Missouri GSA Network slowly because in this state and region, change has many opponents. But the fight makes the victories that much sweeter. In the next year, right here in Missouri, we are building a sisterhood of young trans* women of color led by an amazing 16-year-old leader, Ka’Milla McMiller. That is why we do the work. Keep asking "Why?" at the center of "how" and "what" you do, and you won't have to worry because you will know.

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Morgan Keenan went to Jackson High School in southeast Missouri and now lives in St. Louis. He is the founder and director of the Missouri GSA Network. His background is in social justice movements, including working on issues of economic justice and transportation equity through workforce development for minority contractors. Morgan helped run the St. Louis social support organization for LGBT youth for more than four years as a volunteer creating new programs and developing sustainable resources for the organization. He also organized the Missouri Safe Schools Coalition's partner-building organizations and ran a statewide campaign for safer schools. His education background is in political science and public administration, with a concentration in nonprofit management. When he is not working with the Missouri GSA Network, he works as a consultant for the Trevor Project as well as for a few local nonprofit organizations in Missouri. He credits his success professionally to his loving partner, Jason. Morgan loves playing with their black Lab Julie, designing, running distance, hosting dinner parties, and exploring a great thrift store. Contact him at [email protected] or through the Missouri GSA Network's Facebook or Twitter

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Sassafras Lowrey got hir start writing as a punk zinester in Portland, Ore. Ze is the editor of the two-time American Library Association-honored, Lambda Literary Award finalist Kicked Out anthology, which brought together the voices of current and former homeless LGBTQ youth. Sassafras is also the author of Leather Ever After, a finalist for the National Leather Association Writing Award. Sassafras's debut novel, Roving Pack, was a Rainbow Award winner for Transgender Fiction and honored by the American Library Association. Sassafras is the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Berzon Emerging Writer Award. Ze lives and writes in Brooklyn with hir partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, two bossy cats, and a kitten. Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com.

Jama Shelton is the Forty to None Project Director at the True Colors Fund. For more than a decade, Jama has worked in the field of LGBTQ youth homelessness. Having worked as a direct service provider, housing program director, researcher, program evaluator, and trainer, Jama brings a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing both LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and also the service providers with whom they work. Jama received her doctorate in Social Welfare from the City University of New York Graduate Center in 2013. Her dissertation examined the unique experiences of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth experiencing homelessness. She is also an adjunct professor at both the Hunter and New York University Schools of Social Work and a proud parent of two French bulldogs named Bambino and Meatloaf.

Tags: Youth

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