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HHS accused of censoring LGBTQ homeless advocates
by Matt Simonette

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A federally funded conference on youth experiencing homelessness that begins Nov. 13 in Kansas City, Missouri will take place, according to some advocates, without programs making a significant mention of LGBTQ youth, a demographic disproportionately represented amongst youth experiencing homelessness.

The 2017 National RHY ( Runaway and Homeless Youth ) Grantees Training "provides a significant opportunity for RHY grantees to come together to share knowledge, experiences, and creativity in order to pursue the common goal of providing effective services to the country's runaway and homeless youth," according to the the website for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Training & Technical Assistance Center ( RHYTTAC ), which organizes the conference.

RHYTTAC is funded under the auspices of the Family and Youth Services Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Administration for Children and Families. RHYTTAC's operations are contracted to Louisville, Kentucky-based National Safe Place Network ( NSPN ). NSPN extensively references challenges facing LGBT youth on its website.

But RHYTTAC appears to be torn between an anti-LGBTQ presidential administration and a service community that knows how important LGBTQ issues are when advocating for LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness. One Chicago-based service provider, who wished to remain anonymous, was outraged when they were told that any panels submitted to the conference would be refused by HHS if the proposal centered the concerns of LGBTQ youth. Instead, they were told to refer to "disproportionately affected" or "under-representated" populations.

True Colors Fund Senior Program Officer Christa Price sent a message on Nov. 10 to advocates noting that materials on upcoming programming make almost no mention of LGBTQ youth.

The conference's schedule, for example, only mentions "orientation" and "gender identity" in a talk Price and a colleague are scheduled to give. The term "LGBTQ" is mentioned only once, as part of the background of a conference sponsor, in the same document.

True Colors officials, who are also hosting a table along with officials from the A Way Home America coalition of homelessness advocates, will distribute t-shirts and other materials to emphasize issues pertaining to LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

Price wrote, "You may not be seeing LGBTQ+ programming at the RHYTTAC conference this year—and that's not a coincidence. The True Colors Fund and A Way Home America are still here making sure that LGBTQ+ young people are at the forefront of this issue … . We will not end youth homelessness without centering the experiences and needs of the most marginalized communities."

Statistics show that LGBT youth make up 20-40 percent of youths experiencing homelessness in the United States.

The RHYTTAC news comes days before the release of a much-anticipated national report, Voices of Youth Count, by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. That report will be the first major national survey of youth experiencing homelessness, across many areas of the U.S., including in Cook County. It will show that LGBTQ youth are among those who are over-represented in the numbers of youth living without permanent housing.

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