The 40 percent

The numbers are in, reports the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. About forty percent of homeless youth in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. (Hat tip to Daily Kos for posting the link and summarizing some of the findings.)

The web-based survey ran from October 2011 to March 2012, with 354 youth service agencies responding. Block quote:

– Among both homeless and non-homeless clients, 30% identified as gay or lesbian and 9% identified as bisexual

– 1% of homeless and non-homeless clients were identified as “other gender” but at least another percent of the total clientele were transgender youth who were identified on the survey as either male or female

– Nearly all agencies (91%) reported using intake forms to track the demographic information of their clients, including information on sexual orientation and gender identity; around 30% of agencies use staff estimates to approximate the number of LGBT youth.  Given that youth may not be willing to self-identify as being LGBT when initially presenting for services, these data may underestimate the proportion of LGBT youth served by homeless youth providers [emphasis mine].

Other quotes that struck me included: “LGBT youth represent between 30% and 43% of those served by drop-in centers, street outreach programs, and housing programs.” And this: “Overall, respondents indicated that nearly seven in ten (68%) of their LGBT homeless clients have experienced family rejection and more than half of clients (54%) had experienced abuse in their family.”

The figures are astonishing. We have so many ways to experience homelessness in Great Recession America, what with bankruptcy and unemployment, what with bad safety nets for people who have mental disorders, what with all the foreclosed homes. But for teens, the stats are remarkably skewed toward the love that dare not speak its name lest a slamming door hit you on the way out.

While this study is new, I’ve heard an informal forty-percent estimate for a while. I had already heard it several years ago when, at my cousin’s high-school graduation party, I listened to a family friend chirp excitedly about his goal of bringing Christ to street kids.

We sat in a park pavilion on a sunny Sunday afternoon in June, waiting for someone to uncover the aluminum pans of mostaccioli. He himself was a recent graduate, with a bachelor’s in youth ministry from a Christian college in southwest suburban Chicago. He had applied for a mission team that evangelized runaway adolescents.

He was a very nice, friendly young man, the sort who often talks about the Lord’s leading and what God has given him a heart for. He was genuinely concerned for folks in the mean streets, especially the young. He was convinced that Jesus could help turn their lives around if they believed in him. Get religion, and other things would follow.

I nodded slowly, staring blankly, holding my tongue. I wanted to tell him a lot of the kids already had religion. And many of them had a special reason to flee from religion as much as from their homes.

I wanted to say these kids often grew up in churches where God and the Bible were weapons to keep outliers in line. Being a “manly” man or a “womanly” woman, and choosing between heterosexual marriage and absolute abstinence, were for all intents and purposes constitutive elements of the Gospel. Apart from them you could not boast in the Cross and, despite Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 13:8, love always failed.

“Love the sinner and hate the sin” these churches might. At least officially they might. But it was also a convenient catchphrase, one that helpfully washed their hands every time they unloaded their disgust with those who had different ways of being in the world.

I wanted to say that, if you happen to be one of the outliers, it can be too much. It can become profoundly unsafe. So you leave, or perhaps are made to leave. You remain vigilant for “Christian” agendas ever after. You remain defensively distant even from those who really do care and might even have the real Good News.

I wanted to say all this, but of course I didn’t. In my own life I have mostly learned from my actual experiences with diverse people and communities. This would-be missionary needed to unravel his own naiveté the same way, in the streets and the neighborhoods. I kept nodding and saying “uh-hmm” until the food was unwrapped.

I haven’t seen him since. I wonder what he eventually did learn from those streets and neighborhoods. I wonder when Church authorities–the purple-hat and red-hat ones–will go out there themselves to meet the forty percent and see what “family values” have made.


1 thought on “The 40 percent

  1. I, too, am especially distressed by the high percentage of homeless youth who fall along the GLBTQ spectrum–and these are just the ones who left. In addition to them are all those who live in homes where they continue to face abuse or secrecy because they also know that who they really are will not be accepted–not by their parents, and most of the time, seemingly, not by their God, either.

    My prayer is that these people DO come to God. I hope that your family’s friend is successful in bringing street youth to know Christ, through his actions and his words. And I pray just as fervently that they are successful in bringing God to him — and in opening his heart to the way that religion, not God, has failed those on the margins of society again and again. He could serve as a powerful bridge indeed, one whose good work could heal hearts.

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