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posted Friday, September 9, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 36
Tragic connection between LGBT homeless youth and religious homophobia
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Tragic connection between LGBT homeless youth and religious homophobia

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

The September/October issue of the evangelical social justice magazine Sojourners features an ad raising awareness of the tragedy of LGBT youth homelessness, and the role that religious homophobia plays in creating it (studies show that religious parents are three times as likely as their nonreligious counterparts to throw LGBT children onto the streets). The Ali Forney Center, the nation's largest organization serving homeless LGBT youth, and GLAAD produced the ad. As part of an online series on youth homelessness, Sojourners followed up on the ad by interviewing Ali Forney Center Executive Director Carl Siciliano.

The Ali Forney Center (AFC) was started in June 2002 in response to the lack of safe shelter for LGBT youth in New York City. The Center is committed to providing these young people with safe, dignified, nurturing environments where their needs can be met, and where they can begin to put their lives back together. AFC is dedicated to promoting awareness of the plight of homeless LGBT youth in the United States with the goal of generating responses on local and national levels from government funders, foundations, and the LGBT community.

'It is critically important to address the ways in which religion drives thousands of families to reject their LGBT youth. This rejection has created an exodus of thousands of teens from their homes into homelessness, and their lives are then put into great peril,' Siciliano told Sojourners. 'I am grateful that Sojourners has given me the opportunity to speak to an evangelical Christian audience about the terrible suffering caused by family rejection of LGBT youth. The disproportionate suffering of LGBT youth in our society will not end until open-minded Christians demand that their leaders stop promoting homophobia.'

Siciliano said that about 30 to 40 percent of the kids coming to the center are LGBT, and 'they didn't know where to go.'

'They were just stranded out on the streets at night, and they would largely survive through prostitution because they had no other way of getting any kind of money or resources. & A very great number of them became infected with HIV, and many of them were murdered on the streets,' he said.

One of the kids that Siciliano knew was Ali Forney, the center's namesake. Forney was murdered on the streets of New York.

According to statistics, a Gay youth is eight times more likely to experience homelessness than a straight youth. 'The reason for that is so many families cannot accept having a Gay kid,' he said. 'A certain percentage of youth are homeless because families just say, 'I'm not going to have a Gay kid in my house. Get out.' Other youth are homeless because they are subject to so much violence in their home for being Gay that they flee for their own safety. Also, a number of youth are psychologically traumatized.'

Siciliano has worked with homeless people - youth and adults - for decades.

'When I worked with homeless adults, I felt like I had worked more with people who felt defeated and had given up. It's not so much like that with these kids,' he said. 'Having said that, one difference between working with the Gay kids and the straight kids is that the Gay kids have been more brutalized and have been more subject to violence, and they are struggling more with despair and suicide.'

Siciliano said a study on homeless youth in New York City found about 63% of the LGBT kids admitted to having attempted or considered suicide.

'Their challenges are cut out for them. And some people would say, 'Why is the Ali Forney Center just for LGBT kids?' I really find that having a program that is designed to overcome that specific trauma is very effective in kind of helping them heal and rebuild their lives,' said Siciliano.

Siciliano, who considers himself Christian, said there is no doubt that religion plays a role in many of these kids' parents' decision to throw them into the streets.

'When I hear the kids talk about why they are on the street and why their parents couldn't accept them, there is just a huge thread of where they were seen as sinners and shameful abominations and things like that. And it really tears me up inside, because I have such strong experience of the gospels as being about love, about compassion, about forgiveness, about having an awareness of yourself as a sinner, and not judging others,' he said. 'I don't understand how this terrible cruelty to children could be perpetrated in the name of Christ. There are tens of thousands of teenagers on the streets of our country who have been put out, have been turned away, and have been beaten and brutalized just for being honest about who they are.'

People are aware that promoting the rejection of Gay people inevitably makes parents less able to accept their children. 'What is the moral culpability here?' he asked. 'What is the moral culpability of religious leaders who are also creating an environment where parents drive their children into destitution?'

Whatever the three mentions of the evils of homosexuality are in the Bible, in the hundreds of pages, there is a thousand-fold more about love, about the image of God as a loving parent who would never turn his back on his children, who would always forgive, who would always accept, he said. 'There is so much more about our call to love and care for those who are destitute and poor, to protect children, to protect widows and orphans and the elderly.'

'It seems like such a perversion of the gospel message to have people, in the name of Christ, turn their backs on their children and put them out on the street,' Siciliano concluded.

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