by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
About 50 people gathered July 25 at Southside Commons for 'Welcome to the Hunger Games,' a forum on homelessness among Seattle-area LGBT youth. The event was hosted by LGBTQ Allyship as part of its ongoing discussion series, Queerly Classified.
It's estimated that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, Queer, or Intersex.
'I need allies and my peers need allies,' said Betty, the opening panelist. Betty, who identifies as both Bisexual and Bi-gender, is a homeless young person and works as an intern with YouthCare.
'Please help. Keep us safe, do not look the other way,' said Betty.
The forum featured homeless youth as well as experts working in the filed and sought to not only educate, but engage attendees and even learn from them, so that everyone in attendance left in a better position to combat homelessness among youth.
The second panelist, Luzviminda Uzuri Carpenter, a youth counselor at the Orion Center, spoke on how adults can be allies at the center, which lies just off Capitol Hill on Yale Avenue.
'When we talk about 40 percent of homeless youth, there's a lot of youth that are immigrants and there's a lot of youth that are people of color,' said Carpenter.
She went on to say that there are not enough organizations dedicated to LGBT youth of color, and that Queer youth of color are more likely to find their way into the sex trade here in Seattle, as well as in other cities.
Carpenter said that when people think of homelessness in youth, they often think only of the lack of food and housing, but homeless youth are at a higher risk of suicide, gang violence, and sexual violence, and they face a lack of mental health care, a lack of job skills, and a higher risk for unhealthy relationships. In addition, some deal with a history of abuse.
The third panelist, Skyler Kaeden, identifies as a Trans man and volunteers with Camp Ten Trees, a summer camp for LGBT youth and the children of LGBT couples. Kaeden told attendees what the nonprofit does and encouraged people to volunteer.
The final panelist, Grace McClelland, is the newly appointed division director of Seattle's Human Services Department. McClelland is a former cop, who, after a career-ending injury, began working with youth in juvenile corrections and child welfare. Homelessness among youth is something McClelland has dedicated his life to.
McClelland told the audience how they, or anyone, can and should reach out to a young person on the street. McClelland asked attendees to stop on the street and listen to a young person, to accept them for who they are and affirm them, and to remember that coming out is not a one-time thing - that you're always coming out, every time you meet someone, every day. McClelland asked that above all, people listen.
'Don't interject. Reflect on your own thoughts and stereotypes about young people,' said McClelland. 'Tell them [you accept them]. They never get to hear that.'
McClelland announced that the city of Seattle would allocate more funds to homeless youth programs next year, and that the funding will be focused primarily in southeast and southwest Seattle.
'We're data-driven,' said McClelland, and southeast and southwest Seattle are where those funds are needed most.
In the audience were Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen, and Scott Plusquellec from the office of State Sen. Ed Murray.
'This is a great time to be holding a forum about this,' said Rasmussen. 'It really matters when we're discussing the city budget that people speak up.'
Queerly Classed came from a belief that in order to grow and thrive, the community must have a space where it can come together, find common ground, discuss issues that matter, and take action. Over the years, Queerly Classed topics have included the displacement of LGBT individuals, organizations, and businesses from Capitol Hill; how and why the LGBT community can and should be true allies to homeless youth; the intersection of immigrant and LGBT rights; and many others.
The next and final Queerly Classified discussion this year is 'Wedding Crashers: Marriage and Economic Justice in the LGBTQ Community.' It will take place on September 19 at the Southside Commons (3518 S. Edmunds St.).
For more information on LGBTQ Allyship and Queerly Classified, visit www.lgbtqallyship.org.
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