The 1970s and 1980s. Chicago. Along the streets of heavily gay areas, especially the Near North Side, homeless youth gather, some hustling for money and food, others just seeking a reprieve from unwelcoming communities. Some are run-aways from violent homes, others have been kicked out after they came out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
This multimedia series will run both in print and online, so those accustomed to reading Windy City Times solely online or in print are encouraged to check out both. Don't miss: Windy City Times' Generation Youth video segment at www.youtube.com/windycitytimes and www.vimeo.com/windycitytimes .
The mainstream society and its social safety net fails them, and police often harass them. But gay organizations try to help them, launching youth groups, giving them food and support.
Flash forward three decades. Along Halsted, especially near the shining new Center on Halsted, homeless youth gather, some hustling, some just wanting a safe place to gather. And while some adults want to help them, others within the LGBT community just want them to go away. The youth are stereotyped and harassed by authorities, including LGBTs.
What has changed since the 1969 Stonewall rebellion in New York, since the incredible Chicago LGBT activism of those early post-Stonewall years? Perhaps because LGBTs are now more powerful, there is a wider gap between the gay "haves" and "have-nots" than ever before. The business owners along Halsted are emotionally and financially far removed from the desperate situation faced by some of the newer LGBTs living on the streets, or couch surfing their way to stable and productive lives.
The undercurrent of both race and class differences between the youth, who are predominantly youth of color, and the powerful, who are predominantly white, is threatening to tear apart the delicate fabric of our LGBT community.
In recent years, the youth on Halsted have been blamed for an increase in crime, despite statistics that show they are more likely to be victims of crime and police harassment. Yes, some of them engage in illegal behavior, often as a survival mechanism. Some use illegal substances to cope with the stress of being kicked out by their families.
Windy City Times wanted to look beyond the sensational headlines, the battles between property and business owners and these young people, and find out more about the struggles they are facing.
In the next few weeks, Windy City Times will present a multimedia (print, online, audio and video) series of stories on LGBT youth in Chicago, particularly focused on those who are most at-risk and vulnerable, many of them living on the edge, wondering just what "community" means when it comes to their own LGBT lives.
Middle-aged LGBTs often lament about the way our community used to really come together more, especially when fighting common enemiesfor gay civil rights, against AIDS, and more. There are still important issues we can rally around, but to do so may take us out of our comfort zones. It may mean crossing barriers between class, gender, race and more, to serve and help people who are facing some of the same obstacles our community has faced for many decades.
These youth are not one-dimensional. They are not all good or evil, saints or villains. They help one another survive. They have formed a community that others would admire, if they took the time to look beneath the surface of their looks, what they are wearing, or their challenges.
These are the bullied youth we don't often read about. They may not have the white young male face of Matthew Shepard. They may look different than you. But they need your help just the same. We talk about making a more gay-friendly world for the next generation, yet they are sleeping in the streets in large numbers. They are similar to any teenager or young adult you might meet, but they have more struggles in part because they are LGBT.
What do they think? What are their needs? In the next few weeks, we will explore our community from the perspective of these at-risk youththose under age 25, many of them still teenagersfinding out what they think about the LGBT community.
It is part of our role in creating a better community to step out, step further to expand our definitions of who fits inside our community's permeable walls. If our community can't help the next generationthese kids who are our kids in the biggest sense of that wordthen we are a community who has lost our way.
See stories in the first installment of this series at "Generation Halsted An Overview"
at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Generation-Halsted-An-Overview/40371.html and
"Generation Halsted: An Overview" at the link www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Generation-Halsted-An-Overview/40371.html .
and INFOGRAPHICS: The Youth Experience at www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/INFOGRAPHICS-The-Youth-Experience/40373.html .
and INFOGRAPHICS: Survey Demographics at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/INFOGRAPHICS-Survey-Demographics/40374.html .
Don't miss: Windy City Times' Generation Youth video segment at www.youtube.com/windycitytimes, www.vimeo.com/windycitytimes .
Koala, 18, walks along North Halsted Street on a chilly October night. Photo by Bill Healy.
Windy City Times asked survey participants to identify their top three needs, and the top three needs of other LGBTQ youth. Responses are gathered below; each word's size correlates to how often it was reported.