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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Friends like brothers: Brian and Eric
LGBTQ Youth Series from Windy City Times
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times
2012-11-21

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Brian and Eric are brothers, not by blood, but by choice and circumstance.

They're like Carter and Lee from the 1998 film "Rush Hour," Eric says. Best friends.

"We've been through a lot," says Eric.

"We just talk to each other," Brian adds.

Brian and Eric have much common. They're both 18. They attended the same high school. They've bounced between the same housing agencies the past two years. Both survived abuse as kids. And both like hanging out in Lakeview, where they have found a large peer community.

Everybody knows them here, says Brian.

They're sitting in a room at the Broadway United Methodist Church, where youth advocates host a bi-weekly program for young people called Youth Lounge. The four-hour program is a space where youth can get hot meals, play video games, participate in planned activities and hang out without being told by police to keep walking. It's also a space that seeks to affirm LGBTQ youth.

Eric and Brian come here to see friends. Both identify as straight, but their peer group in Lakeview is made up of people of many orientations and identities.

"We just made friends over here, and they just keep asking us to come back and stuff," says Brian matter-of-factly.

Brian grew up in Iowa and lived with his mom until he was 11 or 12. When he was 10, things with his mother took a turn for the worse.

"She started letting her boyfriends abuse me," Brian recalls. "They started beating on me and my brother and sister. Eventually I told on them."

Brian reported two of the men to the police, and authorities placed him in the care of relatives. When he was 16, he found his way to Lawrence Hall Youth Services and moved into its housing program.

Eric, for his part, grew up on Chicago's South Side. For a time, he lived with his parents and three younger brothers at 87th and Lowe.

"Basically, we lived in an abandoned house," Eric says."We didn't have food or nothing, no clothes…My parents basically was on drugs and stuff. My dad, every time he got drunk…he used to beat on my momma."

Eric says that when he was eight, his biological parents abused him. One day, he and his brothers found themselves locked into the abandoned house. His father had bolted shut the gates over the doors. The building was on fire, and the four had no way of getting out.

A woman saw Eric trying to escape and called 911.

All four brothers survived the fire, and were placed into the hands of a foster mom who eventually adopted them.

But by the time Eric was 16, however, the cost of the kids had proven too steep for her to sustain. Eric offered to go out on his own to ease her financial strain.

"It was kinda hard for her," Eric says. The foster mother told Eric she loved him and didn't want him to leave. But Eric told her to focus on his younger brothers.

"I was crying," he says. "It's hard to see your mom or someone you love cry."

Shortly after he left the house, Eric met Brian at a North Side Kmart.

Eric had just escaped a fight with another group of kids, and he was still upset when he ran into Brian. Brian assured Eric he wasn't looking to fight, and he calmed Eric down.

The two started talking, and Brian told Eric about Lawrence Hall. Eric moved into Lawrence Hall shortly after, and the two quickly formed a close bond.

"We never really got to know each other that well when we first met at Kmart," says Brian. "It was a good relationship, but it got even better when we went to Lawrence Hall."

At Lawrence Hall, the two looked out for each other. When Eric was upset about something, he went and talked to Brian. If one ran out of money, the other helped out.

"Everybody was picking on me, and he's the only one that stands up for me," Brian says.

"Still do," Eric adds.

Two years later, both have moved into housing through Teen Living Programs. Brian graduated high school, and Eric is in his senior year.

Together, they discovered Lakeview, and they have been coming ever since. It is a place where they see new things all the time, says Brian.

But it's also hard. Because many of the young people are street-based, they tend to come and go. Friends find housing and stop coming, or they move on to other places.

But for each other, the two have remained constant.

"We've been through a lot," Eric says. "We're basically brothers."

For more Generation Youth look for WindyCityTimes on www.youtube.com/windycitytimes or www.vimeo.com/windycitytimes . Or click the "YOUTH" tab at www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com .

Next week in Generation Halsted, an in-depth look at the Broadway United Methodist Church's innovative Youth Lounge. Photo essay: Overnight in Boystown. Watch what really happens.


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