Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adolescents make up a disproportionate percentage of homeless youth, struggling on the streets after running away or being kicked out of their homes. Despite ample research on LGBT youth homelessness and heartbreaking personal accounts from survivors, some Religious Right figures still lack compassion for LGBT youth on the streets. A recent post at Right Wing Watch shows that Linda Harvey, host of the Mission America radio show, is such a figure.
During the April 4th edition of Mission America entitled "Homosexual Health Issues Part 2", Linda Harvey discussed a Kaiser Foundation report on LGBT health. Health Care Access and Coverage for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community in the United States: Opportunities and Challenges in a New Era, released in February, explores health issues faced by the LGBT community, particularly as they relate to health care coverage and the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, Harvey seemed more interested in disparaging the LGBT community than dissecting the report's findings.
Harvey depicted the LGBT persons as sinners mired in unhealthy lifestyles, ignoring the wider context of health issues facing the LGBT community. She reminded listeners that gay men and transgender women -- "biological men who want to be known as women", as she described them -- have higher suicide and HIV rates due to the "risks of homosexual living".
At the 2:21 mark, Harvey alleged that the Kaiser report ignores personal responsibility. She refused to give serious consideration to the role of trauma and bigotry in LGBT health problems, insisting that LGBT people "still choose sin". Harvey showed little compassion to LGBT homeless youth, whom she accused of running away out of spite when their parents set boundaries.
"In this Kaiser report, the reason is not personal responsibility or poor choices, but always the family's fault or society's rejection and discrimination. And I just want to say that while of course the reaction of other people has a big impact on anyone, the bottom line is these people still choose sin. The picture is one where the sinful behavior is the most important thing of all. These are often complicated situations that can't be put in a box called everyone-else's-fault. When we're talking about people who are reported elsewhere in this Kaiser paper as having more mental health issues, that means they often have serious instability that results in poor decisions, sometimes tragic ones. Let's talk about homelessness, for instance, which sadly, this report tells us is high among self-declared homosexual and gender-confused adolescents.If Harvey had taken the time to learn about runaway and homeless LGBT youth, she might have more empathy. Multiple studies suggest that many LGBT youth run away from home to escape abuse, or find themselves kicked out by homophobic or transphobic parents.
‘Kids are kicked out of their homes just for being who they are,’ is how the saying goes. Well, let me offer another possibility that I’ve heard far too often. A parent learns that a son or daughter is claiming to be gay, but an underage child still lives at home, so the now-heartbroken parent puts new restrictions on some of the activities, like for instance, the teen is no longer going to be having sleepovers with that same-sex friend, or if that friend is a college student or has an apartment, visits over there will not be permitted. What does the teen do? It may become a fight where the teen storms out by choice and leaves voluntarily because the homosexual relationship is more important than that of his or her parents. And when that all-important relationship ends, the teen is too stubborn or already too involved in alcohol or drugs or the premature independence of the homosexual life, and he or she would rather drift than return home. It’s not always the case, of course, but personal decisions are at the heart of these issues."
According to a 2012 Williams Institute report on service providers who serve LGBT homeless youth, 43% of homeless LGBT youth have been forced out of their homes by their parents because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Equally disturbing was the report's finding that 32% were on the streets to escape emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse at home, and 14% were on the streets because of emotional or financial neglect from their family. According to another study, 50% of gay males received a negative reaction from their parents when they disclosed their sexual orientation. In a quarter of those cases, the parents demanded that the youth leave home. To boot, one third of LGBT youth were assaulted by a family member when they came out. Yet another study found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual homeless adolescents were more likely to have been physically and sexually abused by their caretakers. Finally, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that LGBT youth were more likely than heterosexual youth to leave home due to physical abuse.
Once on the streets, LGBT youth find themselves in dangerous, sordid surroundings. Homeless LGBTQ youth are at higher risk of physical assault, sexual victimization, substance abuse, and mental health issues than their heterosexual counterparts, according to one study. Other studies suggest that gay, lesbian, and bisexual homeless youth are at greater risk of contracting HIV than their heterosexual counterparts, due in part to high-risk survival strategies such as transactional sex. If many LGBT homeless youth have endured traumas at home and on the street, it should not surprise us that some develop depression or anxiety as a result, or that others anesthetize their pain with alcohol and drugs. Without access to safe spaces and services, many homeless youth are vulnerable to violence and forced to take desperate measures to survive. These young people need help. not bigotry.
LGBT adolescents aren't storming out of their homes in a huff because their parents laid down rules, nor are they living on the streets to spite their families. These youth are being driven out of frightening homes by bigoted parents, abuse, neglect, and fear. These youth -- all homeless youth -- deserve services, safe spaces, and compassion. They also deserve families and communities that accept them, respect them, and provide them with safe sanctuaries. Linda Harvey and her ilk are doing LGBT youth no favors by blaming victims or by obscuring the real roots of LGBT youth homelessness.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Truth Wins Out: Linda Harvey Says Homeless LGBT Teens Are Just Being ‘Stubborn’
Queerty: Linda Harvey Attacks Homeless LGBT Youth, Continues Descent Into Evil