As a queer person there is much to be proud of as 2013 begins. Last year was an unprecedented year of progress in the LGBT-rights movement, with greater LGBT visibility and support for marriage equality gaining huge momentum. And that momentum doesn't seem to be slowing, as it looks like the state Illinois will soon legalize same-sex marriage. Yes, in many respects, it's an exciting time for LGBT justice and things do seem to "get better."
Yet all this excitement and progress is greatly diminished by the hundreds of queer young people who are sleeping on the streets of Chicago every night. The truth is, for many queer street-based youth in Chicago, being queer isn't that exciting and things aren't "getting better."
For most of us, the daily reality that so many queer homeless youth experience is difficult to imagine. It is a reality of constant hunger. A reality of being physically and emotionally tired all the time. A reality of violence and abuse. A reality of rejection and stigma. A reality consumed with doing everything possible to survive. And these unimaginable realities are often compounded by racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism and other forms of oppression.
When trying to imagine these realities I can't help but think, "What kind of community allows young peoplealready marginalized because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expressionto be homeless? To eat from the garbage? To be subject to police intimidation and abuse? To be denied services by community agencies? And to be targeted and discriminated against by local businesses and community members?"
Our collective acceptance of youth homelessness in our community is nothing short of child abuse and neglect. It is an injustice so horrific and painful, it disgraces our humanity. And its existence greatly stains the very equality and justice the LGBT-rights movement is accomplishing today.
Queer youth homelessness is, without question, an issue of equality and justice and must not be neglected in the broader LGBT-rights movement happening now. Queer youth are part of OUR LGBT family and we must care for them. If we, as LGBT folks, don't stand up for and with queer street-based youth, who will? If we don't recognize them, who will? If we don't love and support them, who will?
We, as the LGBT community, can no longer allow the gross realities of being young, queer and homeless to dominate these young people's lives. We must do something to make it better for these youth. Windy City Times recently highlighted many actions one could take that would help chip away at the injustice that is youth homelessness. I encourage you to read "Generation Halsted: Recommendations" and do something (www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Generation-Halsted-Recommendations/41012.html).
But at the very least my hope for all of us, as individuals, is to change our own attitudes and behaviors towards queer street-based youth. We must recognize them. Smile at them. Talk with them. Because queer street-based youth are no different from you or me. They have interests, hopes and dreamsand love to kiki. Chicago's queer street-based youth are beautiful, creative, courageous, expressive, resourceful, passionate, determined, loving and resilient. Most of all, they are epically inspiring.
So become epically inspired! See Chicago's queer street-based youth, as important and valued members of our greater LGBT community. Care for them. Fight for them. Include them. Extend to them, what we, as LGBT folks have been working towards for decades: equality, justice and LOVE.
Frank McAlpin is a social worker and human-rights activist; he's on Twitter at FrankMcTalk.