The victories we are seeing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in our communities and beyond are amazing. In fact, if you asked most anyone how things were going for LGBT+ people, they would probably respond, “Great!” But if you ask an LGBT+ youth that same question, they will tell you there is a lot more work to do.
When LGBT+ youth were asked “What is the most difficult problem facing you in your life these days?” the top three answers were: My parents/family are not accepting, trouble at school/bullying, afraid to be out/open. Unfortunately for many LGBT+ youth, identity-based rejection from their families and parents leads to being kicked out of their homes, with no place to go.
During my first year at Zebra Coalition, Bengy showed up seeking help. He had fled to Florida from an abusive and unaccepting family in New York. It was December and every bed at our residential program at Zebra Coalition was full.
Sitting in a fast food restaurant, we gave Bengy his first full meal in days while I contacted every shelter and residential program in our region to find a bed for this youth. Each organization was at capacity with the exception of one. Bengy, however, decided to forgo this option as he had a poor experience with that program’s staff and clients based on his romantic orientation. This young man decided to go without a warm bed and spend the night on the streets, in the cold because he felt unsafe.
With donations from our clothing and food bank, we bundled this young person up and gave him food for the evening. Sending Bengy out into the night, I worried if he would be okay. Fortunately a bed became available later that week and we were able to move him into our residential program just before the holidays.
An LGBT+ youth is eight times more likely to become homeless than a straight youth and they make up a hugely disproportionate 40 percent of the homeless youth population. With limited space to accommodate all homeless LGBT+ youth in Central Florida, there are many youth just like Bengy who go without adequate shelter to meet their unique needs or choose to remain on the streets until a bed becomes available at Zebra Coalition.
I don’t sleep in a vacant lot or outside on benches, but I do have many sleepless nights worrying about these kids and their safety. These young people desperately need us to keep them safe.
I’m here because there is much work to be done in our community to support these kids and because our work at Zebra Coalition matters. Because Bengy, Angel, Cody, Charley, Skylar, Sean, Brian, Will, Bianca, Destiny, Britt and the many other LGBT+ young people we work with every day matter. But they might not think they do.
Please join us this holiday by giving a gift of $100, $50, $25 or more so that we can continue to provide LGBT+ youth healthy, safe and supportive services and programming in 2015. And if you give before December 31, 2014 your donation will be matched up to $25,000 thanks to an anonymous donor.
Thank you for standing by us with kindness and generosity these past four years and for showing our community’s LGBT+ youth that they matter.