Five years ago, on the Christopher Street Pier in New York City, my eyes were opened.
I was doing a photo shoot for Interview magazine and thought it was important to include some gay and transgender youth to reflect my work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. My goal was to send a message of inclusion and acceptance, but what I realized after talking to these kids was just how different my vision was from what they had experienced in their own lives.
The youth on the pier that day told me story after story of exclusion, of rejection and of pain. As a mother, I can’t ever imagine throwing my child away. I can’t imagine kicking a kid out of my house. I can’t imagine rejecting a person who is, literally, a part of me.
But for the kids of the pier, that rejection wasn’t something unimaginable. It was their reality.
Anybody can end up on the street. Homelessness knows nothing of age or race or gender. It can happen to anybody.
But when statistics show that as many as 40% of the nation’s homeless youth are gay or transgender, compared to 3-5% of the overall youth population, we have to acknowledge that we’re facing a crisis. The disparity suggests that gay and transgender youth stand a much higher chance of becoming homeless because of abuse, neglect and familial rejection due to sexual orientation or gender identity that drive them to the streets.
The kids on the Christopher Street Pier that day, and the other gay and transgender youth living on the streets who make up the 40%, have done nothing wrong, other than being born the way they were supposed to be. And because of who they are, these kids have been forced to leave their homes, subjected to abuse or worse.
This week, we launch the Forty to None Project, a national program of the True Colors Fund dedicated to raising awareness around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth homelessness.
And I want you to know that we’ve done our homework. The True Colors Fund started this project with a year-long assessment of the state of affairs for homeless LGBT youth. We looked at the state and level of services available to them and the public’s awareness of the issue.
We traveled the country, visiting shelters, drop-in centers, outreach programs, and advocacy organizations. We talked to community leaders, service providers, government officials and the kids themselves. We held meetings in 10 cities, from Washington to New York to San Francisco to Minneapolis. We looked for the holes in the system, and we’ve developed a five-year plan to make significant changes happen.