I spoke this morning at the press conference with National LGBTQ Task Force and True Colors Fund for the launch of the new “At The Intersections: A Collaborative Resource on LGBTQ Youth Homelessness ” Report. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to author the section on “Redefining Families” which addresses the important role queer families play in the lives of homeless LGBTQ youth, and how essential it is for service providers to understand and respect those created families. The section I wrote also included the story of awesome homeless queer youth advocate Independence Taylor.
Below is the transcript of my statement this morning on the conference call discussing the importance of intersectionality when talking about LGBTQ youth homelessness, the important role that The Task Force’s first report which was excerpted in Kicked Out played with grounding LGBTQ youth homelessness as an epidemic!
Sassafras Lowrey on “At The Intersections: A Collaborative Resource on LGBTQ Youth Homelessness” True Colors Fund & National LGBTQ Task Force Press Conference April 26, 2016 :
My name is Sassafras Lowrey and I am a queer author based in Brooklyn, New York. I grew up in Oregon and when I was in high school I ran away from home after the physical abuse intensified when I came out, and then a couple months later I was kicked out by the adult friends whose home I fled to when they discovered I was queer, leaving me no choice but to couch surf in my semi-rural community. I survived because I created queer family with other homeless kids whose lives mirrored my own. I built my own family, creating a family that amongst other things taught me how to navigate social service systems as an out and proud queer person. The creation and ongoing support of that queer family is what not only helped me to survive, but is what inspired me to dedicate my life writing and advocacy work on behalf of current and former homeless LGBTQ youth.
My literary work has predominately been framed around centering the importance of queer families that we as LGBTQ people create, and so I was thrilled when I was invited to write the section on “Redefining Families.” For this powerful new report.
I believe that it is not only important, but essential to approach all areas of work with homeless LGBTQ youth from an intersectional lens. Too often, I have heard people say “LGBTQ youth homelessness doesn’t happen in my community” or “here is THE best practice that should be employed when working with homeless LGBTQ youth” both are dangerous limiting statements. We know that LGBTQ youth homelessness is an epidemic that impacts ALL communities across our country. As such, if we are going to talk about LGBTQ youth homelessness, and the experiences, and needs of youth who are currently running away or being thrown out of their homes and communities, we must be committed to naming that this experience happens in every community, but we also cannot assume LGBTQ homeless youth to be a monolithic group of young people, or that solutions to ending the epidemic can take a one-sized-fits all approach. For example, my needs as a white, semi-rural, runaway genderqueer identified teen in the early 2000s looked very different than some of my peers who were genderqueer and cisgender youth of color living on the streets in the city where I moved to while couch surfing, AND all of our needs and experiences looked different than those of youth today. As we are talking about LGBTQ youth homelessness, we must remain aware of, and attentive to, the ways in which homelessness intersects with racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, abilism, and sexism impact the lives of individual homeless youth.
In 2010 i edited the two-time American Library Association Honored and Lambda Literary Award finalist, Kicked Out Anthology – this book brought together current an former homeless LGBTQ youth ranging in age from youth who were currently street homeless at the time of publication, to individuals who had been forced to leave home as teenagers pre-Stonewall, as well as the perspective of advocates and policy leaders. Kicked Out was the first book of its kind, born directly from my frustration of not being able to find any books that spoke directly and in the words of survivors to the experience of being runaway, throwaway, kicked our queer youth. I was thrilled that the National LGBTQ Task Force agreed to allow me to excerpt a portion of their groundbreaking report “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness” into the anthology. This excerpt provided my readers which have included countless college students, service providers, and most importantly to me youth who are experiencing homelessness and looking for connection, a nuanced understanding of the scope and scale of the epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness that is needed in order to understand this is not something that just happens to the occasional youth, but as a crisis impacting our entire country. The report supported us in framing queer youth homelessness as the epidemic that it is.
I believe the strength in this new resource guide is the way it provides a focus on the importance of intersectionality when talking about issues facing homeless LGBTQ youth, and more importantly the way it queers service provision by highlighting and prioritizing the needs of youth voices, framing the epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness as a core issue facing the LGBTQ community as a whole, recognizing that current and formerly homeless LGBTQ youth are our current and future movement leaders, and prioritizing the need to create space for us to be out about our experience of homelessness.
In the section I authored on “Redefining Families” , I focused on the lifesaving role that created families play in the lives of homeless queer youth. An embodiment of LGBTQ youth resilience is creation of our own families. It is essential that service providers respect youths’ definitions of family, and who they consider family in the same ways they understand the importance of respecting the chosen names and pronouns of any youth. To NOT respect chosen families is to reinact the same identity rejection many homeless LGBTQ youth have experienced from their biological families. Queer kinship networks, and created families in all of their diverse forms are frequently a primary source of support for LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, and those queer families take many forms. Some, but not all mirror “traditional” family structures using terms like brother, mother, uncle, or daughter for example. Service providers should talk with youth about what their queer families mean to them!
The highlight of writing this section on redefining family was the chance to incorporate a current youths story. Independence, a homeless a-gender teen in California shares in their own words what creating queer family has meant to them, and I want to end this morning with their words “If you haven’t tried to pull in a homeless queer youth into your life or community, now is the time. We need everybody to help get us support and to allow us to grow.… Pull us in and give us love and support and we will flourish.”