Yet, being homeless while still a teenager is no bed of roses.
Jeremiah is now with the Ali Forney Center which runs a shelter for LGBT youth in Queens, New York.
He and his parent couldn’t get along “because of how I express myself,” said the young man with rather swishy mannerisms. But he was just “expressing myself in a way that mattered to me.”
This didn’t agree with his mother. “She didn’t want me to be gay at all,” he said.
There was so much tension in the home, he preferred to stay in school or out till quite late. “I would come home at 8 o’clock because I didn’t like the atmosphere; I didn’t talk to anyone except my sister.”
His mother, as he described here, “had a crazy way with words; they cut through the skin like daggers.” Yet, she was also in a tempestuous relationship of her own. “She loved someone who kept hurting her.”
Embarrassed about how dysfunctional his family was, Jeremiah was always keeping his personal life to himself, “I didn’t want anyone to know about my family,” he said. “It was so damn depressing.”
After many threats to throw him out, it finally happened. Even though she didn’t say what exactly was the main reason, Jeremiah knew that it was largely on account of his sexual orientation and expression. “She used something so insignificant – dirty dishes – that I know the real reason why.”
It being December 2nd, it was winter outside. And he was only eighteen. “All I had on me were two bus cards that my friends had given me.”
Jeremiah was fortunate that his best friend could take him in. And for a while more, his sister continued to support him. He also managed to find a job as a canvasser to earn some money. But basically, he was living from day to day.
Now with the Ali Forney Center, he is provided with counselling and career guidance. He has enrolled with a hair design institute, and he says his future is looking up.
But how many more homeless youth are there who don’t make it into an LGBT-friendly shelter and counselling centre?
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A March 2012 story by Associated Press (you can see it here at Homeless youth: the next battle for gay equality) had even more cases:
Iro Uikka clutches his throat as he describes the violent clash that led to spending his nights sleeping in New York City subway cars.
“When I told my mother I was gay, she grabbed me by the neck and threw me out,” he says. “Then she threw my coat on top of me and shut the door.”
That was five years ago when he was 18, still living at home in Florida.
Baresco Escobar was also featured in the story. The 19-year-old
goes to the far end of Brooklyn to sleep in an abandoned house with dozens of homeless kids, covering bare floors with blankets and cuddling for warmth.
“Home is where you’re supposed to have stability, unconditional love, support, a foundation,” he says. Instead, back in Virginia, “I was in a place of dysfunction, with expectations that didn’t apply to me — full of judgment, discrimination and hypocrisy.”
Invariably, these young people have to resort to any means they can to survive. Selling illicit drugs is one. Prostitution is another. For example the AP story tells of one who worked as an escort.
Demetrius Smith, an 18-year-old who left his great-grandmother’s Michigan farm years ago because “she whipped me, and she beat me with an umbrella because she thought I acted like a girl.”
He bought food and other necessities by working as an escort. That ended last August. An older friend is letting Smith stay with him and the teenager is finishing high school.
While it’s impossible to say with certainty what Smith’s relationship with the older friend is, it seems to resemble a “survival sex” arrangement – when the homeless youth gets get into a sexual relationship with someone, not so much because of any emotional connection, but in order to get a bed to sleep in. This only opens the door to a highly exploitative, and perhaps abusive situation.
The increasing discussion about and visibility of LGBT people in society is leading to more and more young people coming out as LGBT at a younger age, not only in the United States, but in Singapore too. The problem is that their parents are of a different generation, and some of them are stuck in old ways, unable to accept the reality. The child then faces a dilemma: continue to live with the family under extreme tension and duress, or make a run for it. Or the family just throws the young person out anyway.
Says Carl Siciliano, the Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, “There is no greater challenge to the gay movement than figuring out how to help these kids.”