I hope this shocks you as much as it still shocks me…and I’ve been privy to these statistics for several years now: 40% of all homeless kids and teens in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer (LGBTQ), while less than 3% of the general population identities under the queer umbrella.
Think about that for a second: Forty percent.
To put that in perspective, imagine the uproar if you went to a Taking Back Sunday show and 40% of their set was New Again tracks. There’d be a mutiny! But meanwhile, on the streets of America, queer kids and teens sleep under blankets on sidewalks, beg for food, sell their bodies, become ensnared in substance abuse, and fall victim to rape and other unspeakable forms of violence. Sure puts the angst of The Story So Far in proper perspective.
Now, in fear that this becomes the pop-punk equivalent of a Sarah McLachlan commercial, I’ll get to my point: LGBTQ youth homelessness is at epidemic levels and our scene should care about it.
Here’s why. These queer kids on the streets are us. They are our age. They are our generation. And they often come from similar fucked-up home lives as we do. That fucked-up home life is why many of us gravitated to some slice of the punk community to begin with: to escape the isolation, the judgment, the anger, and/or the fear of being different.
In recent years we’ve seen a substantial increase in the amount of queer kids and teens becoming homeless. Why? Well, it’s complicated, but the simplest explanation is that increased LGBTQ youth homelessness is a product of a false sense of security. As our society has made progress on queer issues (Marriage Equality, employment protections, etc.), the media’s coverage of the LGBTQ community has become rosier and rosier. Closeted kids see this positive coverage, assume it’s safe to come out, and then find out ex post facto that their support network is as weak as the ties that bind Tom DeLonge to Blink-182. Queer kids get abruptly kicked out of their homes and are forced to live on the streets without any street smarts or knowledge of the resources available to them. And then there’s the whole “most homeless shelters are run by religious organizations” thing, which makes it way more difficult for LGBTQ kids to find the queer-specific resources they need (but that’s a box of shit I do not wish to unpack at this moment.) So the cycle devolves into all the terrible symptoms associated with youth homelessness: sexual abuse, rape, substance abuse, criminal activity, stunted educational development, lack of employment opportunities, etc.
These kids could be in the pits of a Beartooth show. And they might be. But I’m guessing that, for the most part, they are not.
So, what can we do? Well, there’s a lot. It starts with building a more inclusive music community for all. It means tackling the rampant homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, and misogyny that wreaks living hell in our scene. It demands that musicians speak out about the plight of queer kids and teens. And this isn’t unprecedented. In the 1980s, one of the vogue musical celebrity causes was ending homelessness in the United States. We have precedence.
We need to support organizations such as The Ally Coalition, who work with local LGBTQ youth homeless recourse centers. We need to demand that more centers like the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Youth Center on Highland in Los Angeles or the Ali Forney Center in New York City receive adequate funding. And we need to take a fresh look at how we as individuals view kids and teens living on the streets.
This past April, we threw an awesome benefit show, headlined by the dudes in Gatherers, and raised several hundred dollars for Philly’s only LGBTQ youth homeless resource center, the Attic Youth Center. And we’re in talks to throw more benefit shows for the AYC in the coming months. We know the support is out there.
The punk community, in all its flavors, is about bringing outsiders together. The queer kids who live on the streets could easily be you or I. That’s why the punk community should care. Let’s use our music to bring homeless queer kids and teens under our roof.
Michael McCarron is the founder of Punk Out, a movement dedicated to fostering a culture change in regards to the LGBTQ community within the alternative music scene, to providing resources and support to those who are journeying through the “coming-out” process, and to encouraging musicians who identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender to be more visible. Click here for more information.