By Lonnie James Bean, Intern, Administration for Children and Families
The month of June is a celebratory month for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) communities across the world. June has become synonymous with pride parades and street festivals that celebrate the progress the LGBTQ community has made throughout the years. Cultural attitudes and perceptions of what it means to be LGBTQ are shifting, and this can be seen in everything from the rise in support of gay marriage to the increasing presence of families with young children partaking in pride parades. As we celebrate pride and take part in the festivities, however, it is important that we not forget the struggles that many in the community continue to face.
Despite the tremendous strides the LGBTQ community has made towards equality, the community still suffers from a tremendous amount of societal discrimination. There are currently 29 states where you can be fired for being homosexual. The community still experiences hate crimes in big cities and small towns alike. And sadly, LGBTQ youth are more likely than their straight counterparts to be bullied by their peers, ostracized by their communities, or fall prey to the scourge of child sex trafficking.
Each year, thousands of young people across the country become homeless, and LGBTQ youth account for a disproportionate share of the runaway and homeless youth population. Although LGBTQ individuals only account for three to five percent of the population, they account for up to 40 percent of the runaway and homeless youth population. It is estimated that 26 percent of LGBTQ adolescents are rejected by their families and put out of their homes for no other reason than being open about who they are. Once on the streets, they face a significant chance of becoming victims of human trafficking. More people are enslaved today than at any point in human history, and LGBTQ youth are being trapped in sexual slavery at alarming levels. Once trafficked, these children face beatings, mutilations, brandings, rapes, and a host of other crimes that no child should ever live through.
The story of Sam is an example of how easy LGBT runaways can fall prey to human trafficking. When Sam’s father found out that he was gay, he threw him out of the house. Having nowhere else to turn, Sam loaded up his car to leave for Chicago. When he arrived in Boy’s Town, an LGBT community in Chicago, his first pimp snuck up behind him, put a rag laced with sedatives over his mouth to knock him out, and dragged him off the street. When Sam woke up, his pimp sadistically abused him, forced him to ingest cocaine, and trafficked Sam into prostitution in Chicago and Michigan. His pimp made $400 to $500 a day from Sam’s commercial sexual exploitation. Approximately a week after his abduction, Sam escaped his first pimp, but his slavery continued. When Sam needed a way to support himself, he responded to an ad for an escort service in a Gay Chicago Magazine, where his victimization continued by a second pimp.
Like other populations, LGBTQ youth that have been trafficked have specific needs that must be addressed. The Administration for Children and Families has been working to ensure that LGBTQ victims of commercial sexual exploitation receive the services necessary to recover. Services provided through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program are required to be safe and inclusive for all youth, including those that identify as LGBTQ. The Family and Youth Services Bureau’s (FYSB) Runaway and Homeless Youth Program requires its grantees to train staff in how to best serve the unique needs of the LGBT population. FYSB is also currently accepting applications for an LGBTQ Capacity Building Grant for Transitional Living Programs. The purpose of the grant is to build the capacity of transitional living programs to serve youth who identify as LGBTQ and are experiencing homelessness. Additionally, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program is currently accepting grant applications to expand the capacity of both “mainstream” domestic violence organizations and LGBTQ-specific organizations to more effectively identify and address the unique needs of LGBTQ intimate partner violence victims.
As a gay man, I have a lot to be thankful for this June. I am fortunate enough to have a family that loves and accepts me unconditionally. I live in a time when the first sitting President of the United States openly endorsed gay marriage. I live in a city where there is a large, thriving gay community and I can walk down the street without fear of violence. I have seen prevailing attitudes about the LGBTQ community shift at an unprecedented rate. And I am fortunate enough to work for an administration that is actively fighting to end homelessness and sex trafficking among LGBTQ youth.
To learn more, seek help, or report tips, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888 or text BEFREE.