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Panel discussion on homeless LGBTQ Youth held at GVSU today

November 6, 2012

The GVSU School of Social Work hosted a panel discussion this morning at the downtown campus on the topic of LGBTQ Youth and homelessness.

The panel included Susan Sheppard with Arbor Circle, Mary Alice Walker with Heartside Ministry and Colette Seguin-Beighley with the GVSU LGBT Resource Center.

Colette began the discussion by telling a story about a gay youth whom Colette had correspondence with. The young man said that his mother hated the church that Colette was part of, because it was an open and affirming church, which is why the gay youth decided to continue correspondence with Colette.

The young man had faced homelessness because his family did not accept his identity, so Colette and her family took him in for the next 6 months. It was her first encounter with a homeless LGBTQ youth.

In a time where Marriage Equality is becoming more acceptable, homeless LGBTQ youth is not really on the radar screen for both progressive sectors and many LGBT organizations across the country. Colette said it is a much more difficult issue to tackle and that it is one that needs to dealt with through an intersectional lens.

Mary Alice Walker, who works at Heartside Ministry, talked about how their organization has recently designated their space as a safe space for the LGBTQ community. She told a story about a 21 year old Black bisexual man who has used the services at Heartside, but how his identity and the fact that he is now 21 has limited the kinds of services and safe spaces for him, since he is no longer a youth.

Mary Alice also talked about how LGBTQ youth are often bullied in a variety of circumstances. She also addressed the lack of services available to LGBTQ youth, particularly Trans youth, since most shelters will not allow them to stay since they do not identify as male or female. Mary Alice also talked about how those in the social service profession needed to not only become familiar with the terminology and identifying language that LGBTQ youth use, so that greater sensitivity can be part of the services offered.

Susan Sheppard, who works for Arbor Circle, talked about the gaps in the community. She talked a bit about the history of federal policy on homeless youth in the US, a policy, which has never included any language specific to LGBTQ youth.

In Grand Rapids there is The Bridge, Homeless Youth Services and the Street Outreach Program, which is all part of Arbor Circle. Susan talked about a variety of issues that contributed to the homelessness of LGBTQ youth, but that her staff tries to focus on providing a safe space and building relationships with these youth.

During the Q&A part of the program, most of the questions focused on issues of parental involvement, church involvement, federal funding or other social service focused questions. The conversation clearly demonstrated that this is a complex issue that includes basic social services such as housing, counseling, food assistance, transportation needs, health care and HIV/AIDS services. It seems clear that there are inadequate amount of services available to homeless LGBTQ youth in Kent County, plus a lack of understanding from some service providers about LGBTQ youth and homophobia.

What was lacking in the discussion was looking at this issue through a much bigger lens and outside of the social service framework. The panel was asked by this writer about the importance of looking at root causes of LGBTQ homelessness and the benefits of social movements to address this problem instead of just social services.

Susan Sheppard acknowledged that having a strong social movement would be important in addressing root causes, but she also suggested that the emphasis be on legislation. Colette Seguin-Beighley agreed that social movements would be important to not only reframe the issue of LGBTQ homeless youth, but could also get people to think about how the work could be done specifically by folks in the LGBTQ community. She said that there are people talking about starting a housing collective that would assist homeless LGBTQ youth, but not in a non-profit model. She also stated at one point that funding is always an issue, but not because the money doesn’t exist, it’s what we spend it on. Beighley noted that federal funding has been cut for some of the projects for homelessness, while at the same time millions have left this community to funds the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and that these are connections that need to be made.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Josh permalink
    November 6, 2012 10:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Definitely an issue that’s not getting enough “press”, as it were.

    Do you have any more details on this LGBTQ housing co-op?

  2. November 6, 2012 10:17 pm

    Josh, I am not aware of any concrete movement on the coop. I think it is only a conversation at this point, but if I find out anything we will post it if it gets some traction.

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