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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 4, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 22
Allyship forum on youth homelessness
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Allyship forum on youth homelessness

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Allyship debuted the fourth year of its popular Queerly Classed discussion series with a forum on homeless Queer youth on June 1.

Allyship founder and board member Debbie Carlsen introduced the forum, saying 'this is new territory for Allyship.'

An organization working 'in solidarity with marginalized communities to understand the interconnectedness of oppression,' Allyship has taken on a number of controversial issues, including the rights of sex workers and disappearing Queer space on Capitol Hill.

Their latest forum was titled 'Voice Up Voice Out: Queer homeless youth tell us how we can be allies.'

The program began and ended with spoken-word performances by 'writer, dancer, creationist, first-generation gender-bender, and community nerd' Knowmad, and Steffie Stansbery, who 'generally spends her time touching trees, straddling the dorky-hipster line, and confusing children's schemas of gender,' according to Carlsen.

Featured panelists included Selam Gebrekidan, an LGBTQ youth leader and current resident at Youthcare; Erica Olsen, an LGBTQ youth leader and former resident at Youthcare; Fatima Arain, a radical Queer Pakistani femme youth worker who spends her days at Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets, a homeless youth agency in Capitol Hill; Kyle Rapinan, an LGBTQ youth leader, previous co-chair of the international Safe Schools Coalition, current Commissioner of Seattle's LGBT Commission, UW Q Center trainer, trainer with the NW Network: Seattle Queer Youth Speakers Bureau, and formerly homeless youth; and Eileen Corcoran, a formerly homeless addict and street prostitute who currently is the founder of Rising Above Sexual Exploitation (RASE), a street-based outreach and advocacy program that works with homeless youth at risk for sexual exploitation.

'It sucks when you're an outcast,' Gebrekidan said in her presentation. 'When you're a person of color, when you're Trans - even in the supposedly Queer shelters there's sexism, Transphobia, homophobia&.'

Olsen recounted a long and complex relationship with an alcoholic mother and her mother's Mormon boyfriend that led to her moving out as a teenager.

'It was a huge deal for me, moving out,' she remembered. 'I felt like I was hurting [my mother] by moving out because I felt like I had to take care of her.'

Lambert House became 'a huge part of my world,' she added. Since then, she said, she's also become acquainted with 'Orion house, Queer Youth Space - amazing stuff!'

Saying she had 'never been homeless - my experience is as an ally and advocate,' Fatima Arain noted that amenities most people might take for granted are simply not available to homeless youth.

'Healthcare, dental care, safer sex information and materials, nutrition - access is hard enough if you're homeless, but add being Queer, add being youth - you have all these layers of marginalization&.'

'Even public restrooms,' she continued. 'If you're Trans, where do you go? It's the same for homeless, but in a different way. & People yell at you, they call the cops. Public urination can be classified as a sex crime.'

'What we need is a real drop-in center to serve - I don't like to call it a population, I call it a subculture,' Eileen Corcoran said.

'I came to Seattle in 1993 to get clean, and I didn't make it to treatment till 2005,' she added. 'I'm a big believer in harm reduction.'

After recounting the harrowing story of a brother who Gay-bashed him and threatened to kill him, and a mother who publicly rejected him - 'I'll never forget the look on her face when she told me she didn't love me anymore,' he said - Rapinan spoke about empowering Queer youth.

'We should have representation on the boards of directors of foundations that give out money for Queer youth issues,' he said. 'It shouldn't be that all the decisions are made by professional staff, or people who will never have to use these services.'

Remembering 'three years of couch surfing' during which he depended on publicly funded services, Rapinan had harsh words for budget hawks.

'For all the people who say, 'Cut spending,' these services saved my fucking life!'

Several panelists also noted that young people over the age of 24 are cut off from designated 'youth services' but may not qualify for adult services until they reach their mid- or late 30s.

Allyship plans a volunteer meeting on June 13 for people who want to work on youth homelessness issues. That meeting will be held at the Douglass-Truth Library, 2300 E. Yesler Way, at 6 p.m.

The next installment of the Queerly Classed series will be July 3.

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