Every year, thousands of youth are forced onto the street by families who reject them when they come out as LGBT. Sometimes they are fleeing neglect or abuse at home have nowhere to turn. There, they are at enormous risk of violence, suicide, substance abuse, and HIV infection, with many turning to sex work simply to survive.
Ten years ago, my friend Carl Siciliano did something about it: He opened the Ali Forney Center (AFC), New York’s first shelter specifically for LGBT runaway and homeless youth.
Starting with only eight beds in the basement of a church, Carl and his staff and supporters have raised enough funding in the past decade to open a drop-in center in Chelsea providing food, clothing, medical and mental health aid and a number of additional housing facilities.
In 2012, the AFC will open the nation’s first 24-hour drop-in center for these youth. I am proud to serve on the AFC board and do what I can to help.
Today, AFC operates 77 shelter beds, but has a waiting list of hundreds. At these facilities, a fraction of the young people who want to are getting their lives on track, living for six months to two years while receiving access to education and job training, guidance in basic life skills, and a chance to be part of a welcoming and safe community.
We are now the largest organization in the country serving LGBT homeless youth, which we are proud of, but wish was unnecessary. Our colleagues across the country doing this work are also woefully underfunded and overwhelmed, and even as we make major strides in LGBT equality for adults we must prioritize this issue and the lives of LGBT youth.
We are in a very challenging position right now. Our work is endangered by draconian city and state budget cuts, which threaten to force many of these youth onto the streets. New York City is a place where most homeless LGBT youth come for refuge from hostile communities and families. This is their last stop on the train, and the AFC is just about the only one waiting at the station.
Join me as we pause to reflect on 10 years of work and roll up our sleeves for the next decade. We are beginning to see more support from the larger LGBT and allied community but there is much to do.
Ally Sheedy is an award-winning actress and a member of the AFC Board. On Thursday, July 19, Parker Posey and Chad Michaels host the Ali Forney Center’s annual summer benefit, Oasis, at the Bowery Hotel’s Terrace Room. For more information on the Center or to make a donation, visit the AFC website.
Photo: Bridget Laudien