Guest blogger Bryan Samuels is the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at ACF.
The transition from being dependent on parents and family for most of our resources and support, to being independent and embracing the autonomy of adulthood is a challenging journey that everyone must face eventually.
For some teenagers and young adults, that transition is even more difficult because home is an unsafe place.
Sometimes it’s unsafe because of physical violence and threats, sometimes it’s because of parents’ or caretakers’ neglect, and sometimes it’s sexual abuse. In those cases, leaving home could seem like the best decision from a set of undesirable options. And sometimes young people leave home and must face the transition to adulthood much earlier than their peers, whether or not they are ready.
For lesbian gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth who have left home—heap on top of those struggles the complication of searching for your identity— when the home you left, the school you attend, and the social messaging all around you rejects you for who you are.
Yet through all of these hardships, there are LGBT young people who are able to heal and recover and become healthy and happy adults. They are able to form and sustain lasting relationships, find and keep stable housing, and connect with a job and career that they find fulfilling.
On March 9, I participated in the White House’s Regional Conference on LGBT Housing and Homelessness in Detroit, where we discussed the social and emotional challenges that homeless LGBT young people face. We also brainstormed ways that the federal government, state, and local organizations can move toward facilitating healing and recovery for many more homeless LGBT young people.
Helping youth build a set of key characteristics, like self-esteem, self-efficacy and personal strength, is a big piece of this puzzle. There are community level factors that benefit LGBT young people as well:
• Having a web of supportive friends, teachers and adults
• Feeling connected
• Being part of a group that has worth
• A safe space to “come out” and “be out” among friends and family
Efforts to build these characteristics and community level factors will only lead to strong, resilient adults when we address the whole person. This means understanding that many of the issues LGBT youth face are similar to their non-LGBT peers, and that personal and social rejection adds a distinction to the work that ought not be ignored.
We are committed to keeping this work at the front of our agenda at the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, both for the Runaway and Homeless Youth programs and for youth in foster care. Look for us to continue to search for ways to improve our programs’ ability to meet the needs of LGBT youth.
The White House will sponsor another discussion important to LGBT Youth. The White House LGBT Conference on Safe Schools & Communities will take place Tuesday, March 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the University of Texas at Arlington. Keynote speakers include Eric H. Holder, Jr., attorney general of the United States and Valerie B. Jarrett, senior advisor to the President. For more information about the event, click on this link.