DC Center’s Youth Working Group Battles LGBT Teen Homelessness
True to its name, since it was founded in December 2002, the DC Center for the LGBT Community has been serving the needs of the local gay community. The recent efforts of the DC Center's Youth Working Group focus on the challenges of bullying and homelessness facing the city's LGBT youth.
In October of this year, Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Act of 2012 to the DC Committee on Human Services. The intent of the proposed bill was to make changes to current legislation to insure interagency coordination to calculate the DC LGBTQ homeless youth population, develop and outline policies to reduce LGBTQ homeless youth rates, and provide funding to homeless service providers for additional beds reserved specifically for LGBTQ homeless youth, and require homeless service providers to implement best practices for culturally competent care of LGBTQ homeless youth.
In a November joint memo to Councilmember Mary Cheh and Councilmember Jim Graham, the DC Center's Youth Working Group and the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates commented on the recently proposed LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Act of 2012 (B19-1012).
The memo highlights a series of disturbing facts regarding LGBT homeless youth. According to the memo, up to 40 percent of the nation's homeless youth identify as sexual minorities. A 2011 study by the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates estimated that between 3,000 and 6,000 local youth are forced to leave their homes at some point each year.
"At a high rate, LGBT youth wind up homeless," said Youth Working Group Chair Dr. Eddy Ameen. "They are kicked out of their homes when they come out or when they are found out."
"When youth are left to fend for themselves on the street or elsewhere, they fall prey to further victimization and occasionally to sexual exploitation," he added. "Worse still, when youth go to shelters that may not have a high level of acceptance of LGBT individuals, they face further discrimination."
Both the DC Center's Youth Working Group and the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates also requested several revisions to the bill in the memo, citing the age limit definition of youth in the bill, the lack of clarity on whether more beds overall for homeless youth would be made available in light of the existing shortage, and the absence of specificity regarding the details of how competency training would be implemented as some of their major concerns.
Although the bill was introduced this year, it was unable to make it out of the committee during this council period and will need to be reintroduced. The DC Youth Working Group is communicating with the committee and Councilmember Graham's office in preparation for the bill to be reintroduced in the upcoming year.
Working with the Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force
The DC Center’s Youth Working Group is also actively involved in the DC Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force. The task force was created to develop a comprehensive policy model to be used as a framework by DC agencies in adopting tailored anti-bullying policies to protect the District’s youth. Its focus lies on citywide bullying prevention and hopes to eliminate bullying in schools, public libraries, parks, recreation centers and other public spaces.
"The DC Center is involved because bullying is a very real challenge LGBT kids face. It puts them at increased risk of truancy, dropping out, suicide, and drug use," said Gwendolyn Harter, the Youth Working Group’s liaison to the task force.
Earlier this year, the Youth Working Group provided input and feedback on the current progress of the DC Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force. Citing information obtained by the CDC’s 2010 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the group stated that their comments were framed in the context of concern for LGBTQ youth in the District.
"This task force is particularly important because the Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012 was actually passed and the policy is being written," said Harter. "So many things we lobby for never get done, but this actually is so we need to be a part of it."
According to the survey, students who identify themselves as members of the LGBTQ community experience higher levels of physical and sexual violence, electronic bullying, and harassment in comparison to their heterosexual and non-transgender classmates.
One of the main comments was the concern regarding the varying levels of LGBT inclusiveness between schools and its effect on the implementation of an agency plan. The group believes that the implementation of any plan should be assigned to a team of designees rather than a single individual in order to provide a collaborative atmosphere or include a system to ensure that the policy is receiving proper attention.
One of the many focuses of Harter’s work with the task force lies in the data collection aspect of the anti-bullying model. In the current model, a measure is included for identifying not only a singular incident of bullying, but also the underlying factors that caused it.
"Collecting that information will help agencies target education and prevention programs," Harter told EDGE. "I attend every meeting with a narrowed focus as to how this prevention policy can help or hurt LGBT adolescents."
For the time being the task force is waiting on implementing regulations, which it needs to write a full model policy. The proposed adoption date for the anti-bullying policy is currently set for early 2013.
Community Support and Interaction
The Youth Working Group works with many local DC organizations in scheduling and sponsoring youth and advocacy events. The group is currently working with the Trinidad Recreation Center to host a youth event sometime in the new year, and will co-sponsor a youth inaugural ball on January 18 at THEARC community center with SMYAL.
The group’s next meeting, to be held from 6-7:30 p.m. on Jan. 14, will feature an appearance by Amy Loudermilk, Deputy Director of the DC Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, who has agreed to offer a Q&A session for members of the community.
But as much as the DC Center gives to the community, the community is also more than ready to give back.
Hotmess Kickers, a DC Stonewall Kickball fall league team, made a surprise donation to the DC Center Youth Working Group during the group’s December meeting. The Hotmess Kickers held a highly successful fundraiser in November to raise money specifically to support the efforts of the working group. Co-captain Jim Maroukis made a donation in the amount of $1,760 on behalf of the team.
The DC Center has also announced that after a long competitive bidding process that it has received an award of solicitation for space in the Reeves Center at 2000 14th St. NW. The DC Center plans to move into the new space next year. The new accommodations are stated to be roughly twice the size of the organization’s current U Street location.
As 2013 closes in, the DC Center and the Youth Working Group are already looking toward the future and preparing for what the new year has in store.
"The working group feels that in this city of abundant resources there is also abundant need," said Ameen. "We endeavor to use our power of voice and resource allocation to make futures a little brighter for LGBT homeless youth."
Disclosure: The author of this piece is an active member of the DC Center’s Youth Working Group.