One month ago, I started a crowdfunding campaign for Seth Owen, the bright and audacious Georgetown-bound student who had been left homeless after enduring "conversion therapy" and receiving an ultimatum from his ultraconservative parents.
Seth, the co-valedictorian of his graduating class, had been living with friends since February. Georgetown University had denied his appeals for more financial aid given his change in circumstances, and with almost all options exhausted, he had decided to move with our family to Boston to take a gap year.
In just four weeks, Seth’s campaign has gained more traction that any of us ever imagined. My inbox is overflowing with messages of support, media requests, and donation notifications, but what sticks out most are the messages I have received from LGBTQ students from around the country whose stories are all too similar to Seth’s.
I met Seth four years ago in my biology classroom in Jacksonville, Fla. I was a second-year teacher and he was a bright-eyed freshman with his eyes set on success. That school year, I started our school’s first gay-straight alliance (a club Seth would later lead in his junior and senior years).
Like many others in the LGBTQ community in the South, Seth and I shared similar experiences of ostracism in our families and communities. In that, however, we also recognized our privilege we held as white, cisgender, middle-class individuals. As this campaign takes off and continues to spread around the world, we want to use our privilege to shine light on the realities of this situation.
The reality is that Seth’s story isn’t unique. LGBTQ youth account for 40 percent of the homeless teen population. In fact, black youth who identify as LGBTQ have the highest rates of homelessness. Seth was fortunate in his situation that he had a myriad of mentors and friends willing to support and house him during his difficult time. Not all share that privilege and struggle to find safe spaces to exist after becoming homeless.
The reality is while Seth’s story is getting coverage and he is receiving immeasurable recognition by the media, transgender people of color are getting murdered, misgendered, and also overlooked by the same media. In 2018, at least 16 transgender people have been murdered. Jacksonville alone has seen the murder of three trans-identified women this year: Antash’a English, Celine Walker, and Cathalina Christina James.
The reality is that Seth has a strong chosen family and support network, but so many others don’t. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s Youth Report, 42 percent of LGBTQ youth say the community in which they live in is not accepting of LGBTQ people. In the high school Seth attended, he had a gay-straight alliance, mentors, and friends who accepted him as an out and proud gay male student. This is unfortunately not always the case in schools around our country.
While it seems appropriate to shower Seth’s supporters with gratitude (and we are eternally thankful for your support), I instead want to implore you to continue your allyship offline in your own communities. There are voices and stories that deserve to be amplified, uplifted, and supported just as much as Seth’s story. There are organizations working to provide resources, safe spaces, and support to LGBTQ students who need funding and volunteers. Find those voices and organizations. Invest in them and help make our nation a little brighter and inclusive for all.
JANE MARTIN organized a crowdfunding effort for her friend Seth Owen, a formerly homeless gay man who will now attend Georgetown University.