LGBTQ Homeless Youth at Risk, Part 1 of 3

image1Homeless youth, sometimes referred to as “unaccompanied” youth, are individuals under the age of 18 who lack parental, foster, or institutional care. Youth become homeless for a variety of reasons, but rarely by choice. Factors contributing to youth homelessness include family dysfunction, sexual abuse, “aging out” of the foster care system, exiting the juvenile justice system, and economic hardship. According to data from The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, close to 1.7 million youth are homeless because they either ran away from home or were kicked out of their home.

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence cites the primary cause of youth homelessness as family dysfunction in the form of parental neglect, physical or sexual abuse, family substance abuse and family violence. Furthermore, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness reports that twenty-five percent of former foster youth became homeless within four years of exiting care.

Data from the Williams Institute indicates that between twenty and forty percent of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBTQ. Forty-three percent of clients served by drop-in centers identified as LGBTQ. Thirty percent of street outreach clients identified as LGBTQ. Thirty percent of clients utilizing housing programs identified as LGBTQ. In short, LGBTQ youth make up a large percentage of the overall homeless youth population.

The roots of LGBTQ youth homelessness are similar to their non-LGBTQ peers. The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, et al., report that the most common factor contributing to LGBTQ homelessness is family rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Similarly, the second most common factor is being forced out by parents or caretakers after coming out. At school LGBTQ students often face harassment–both physical and verbal–which leads to high dropout rates and a greater risk of chronic homelessness. Gay and transgender students are two-times less likely to finish high school or pursue a college education compared to the national average; seventy-five percent of LGBTQ homeless youth drop out before completing high school.

Generally, homeless youth are at greater risk of psychological and physical trauma. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics show that 61.8% of homeless youth report depression, 71.7% report experiencing major trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, and 79.5% experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for more than a month. Homeless youth are already a vulnerable population, but for the twenty to forty percent of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning), the situation is even more dire.

Once homeless, LGBTQ youth report a greater risk of victimization as a result of physical and emotional violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Unaware of the biological complexity of sex and gender, many people discriminate against transgender people on the basis of ethnic, religious and cultural values. Transgender youth face the most extreme threats to their safety due to a lack of acceptance. Additionally:

  • Eighty-six percent of LGBTQ students reported being verbally harassed at school due to their sexual orientation
  • Forty-four percent of LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation
  • Twenty-two percent of LGBTQ  students reported having been physically attacked in school
  • Sixty percent of the students who were physically attacked in school said they did not report the incidents because they thought no one would care
  • Thirty-one percent of LGBTQ students who did report incidents of harassment and violence at school to staff claim they received no response

All too often, the service organizations that serve homeless youth fall woefully short of supporting LGBTQ homeless youth. Exacerbated by family dysfunction and high drop out rates, LGBTQ youth are disproportionately homeless due to overt discrimination when seeking alternative housing. Reports of widespread discrimination in federally funded institutions are often cited as a major contributing factor to the recent epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. Overt discrimination is not unheard of: in some instances signs are posted barring transgender homeless youth from accessing services, or they are kicked out of shelters when their transgender identity is discovered.

There are currently no federal programs specifically designed to meet the needs of gay and transgender homeless youth, and there are no protections in place to keep gay and transgender youth from being discriminated against while accessing federally funded homeless services. The Obama administration is aware of and making an effort to respond to the growing rates of LGBTQ youth homelessness, but there is a chasm between program recommendations and program implementation.

[This article is part 1 in a series of 3 articles on LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 1 identifies origins and challenges for LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 2 identifies federal, state, and local initiatives aimed at LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 3 summarizes best practices and offers a state & local approach based on best practices.]

Judge Rules Sperm Donor Is Legal Father Of Child Born To Lesbian Couple

In Topeka, Kansas a judge has deemed that a man who donated sperm to a lesbian couple is the legal father of the child produced because a licensed doctor was not involved in the insemination. Now the man, William Marotta, must pay child support. Marotta responded to a Craigslist add posted by Jennifer Schreiner and Angela Bauer in 2009. For $50 Marotta agreed to provide sperm to the lesbian couple. Without seeking legal advice, Marotta and the couple signed a document stating that Marotta was not to be responsible for the child.

Schreiner and Bauer separated within a year after the birth of their daughter. Schreiner sought financial aid from the state to help her support the child and listed “donor” as the child’s father. Determining that Marotta was not an anonymous donor, the Kansas Department for Children and Families demanded he pay child support.

Schreiner and Bauer purport themselves to be the child’s parents, but the judge disagreed. Because proper protocol was not followed in the insemination, the judge said Marotta cannot be considered just a donor. Specifically, they did not follow state law which requires the use of a physician for artificial insemination and the signing of certain documents. The judge stated, “The court is bound by the ordinary meaning and plain language of (state law) and it may not look the other way simply because the parties intended a different result than that afforded by the statute.”

It is unknown whether Marotta will appeal the ruling.

“I Was Raised By A Gay Couple And I’m Doing Pretty Well”

Zach Wahls was conceived using artificial insemination to his biological mother, Terry Wahls. He has a younger sister who shares the same sperm donor and parents. Terry met Jackie Reger in 1995 and the two held a commitment ceremony in 1996.

He has said that having lesbian parents caused occasional problems during his school years when he found it difficult to explain to his peers or found that some of them were forbidden to socialize with him. He was sometimes teased and sometimes bullied because of his parents’ relationship. In high school he wrote a series of columns for his high school newspaper about being raised by a lesbian couple.

While still a high school senior, following the Iowa Supreme Court decision in Varnum v. Brien that invalidated the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, he wrote an op-ed piece in the Des Moines Register in which he advocated a complete separation of marriage from civil unions, calling for legislation “to completely remove government from the marriage process altogether, leaving a religious ceremony to religious institutions, and mak[ing] civil unions, accessible by any two people, including those of the same sex, the norm for legal benefits.”

On January 31, 2011, Wahls addressed the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in a public hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Iowa. The young man is an incredibly talented speaker and even if you disagree with his overall point, I think it is a valuable video to watch. You can find the video here.

For more information on Zach and his activism for LGBT rights, go here and here.

 

Zach Wahls and His Two Mothers