Guerino in holiday sweater
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for perspective. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to immerse myself in a world of community building, helping those in need. But as much as I believe I’ve learned more, I think I’ve lost sight of one my first goal: raising awareness. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy getting angry about misconceptions from the majority about the minority. Specifically, queer homeless youth. But in the last week, I’ve re-assessed my self-righteous “Think of the children!” position. I have had unique experiences that shaped my outlook and instead of doubting those that think differently, maybe I should relate my experiences in a way that others might understand better.
With legislation and popular culture growing more accepting of homosexuality, it’s hard to see the drawbacks. But it happens in the homes of queer youth. Straight parents who still fear homosexuality see this as something that claims their children and their reaction is as extreme as the progress we’ve made. The statistics for homeless queer youth are astounding. More than 1 in 4 queer youth that come out to their family are kicked out of their home. Up to 40% of homeless youth identify as queer. But statistics define the issue about as completely as any number defines you from age to weight to phone number.
This Thanksgiving, I’m going to start talking about my endeavors to raise awareness and funds for queer homeless youth. There are stories I haven’t shared. It wasn’t until this past Summer that I publicized that I was ever homeless myself. My experiences were terrifying but small in comparison to many of the youth I have met this past year who struggle with homelessness on a daily basis. I hope my personal stories can change this issue from numbers to a reality you wouldn’t think you could relate.
My very first story is the story of We Are Halsted.
Last Summer, I saw a community issue. The whole community was on alert. I was proud that they were worried and wanted to help but I didn’t think they were making informed opinions on what should be done. The issue, on the very surface, was crime in Chicago’s queer neighborhood, Lakeview. What bothered me though was where community concern was directed. There were a series of muggings and stabbings and terms like “south-side gangs” and “Take back” were used to disguise fear and racism.
Most of the blame was directed at the mass of young persons that roamed up and down Halsted who largely were African-American. There were congregations of them and they’d be seen laughing, shouting and vogue-ing all through the night. It was obvious to see that they were younger, poorer and non-whiter than the majority of Lakeview so I could understand how they were considered outsiders. But I had to laugh to myself a little when people tried to label them “gangs.” The term was used in an effort, conscious or otherwise, to have them forced out of the neighborhood. I mean, with the flailing of limp wrists and uncanny ability to turn a city street into a catwalk, these mary’s are most assuredly not a gang.
It took little investigation from police officers and city officials to confirm what I thought was obvious, these were gay teens and they didn’t live on the south side because they didn’t live anywhere. They were homeless. At least in the conventional sense that they had no bed or mailing address. But, because of their sexuality, they came to Lakeview. Hoping to not be judged by their sexuality. Hoping to call it home.
This is why the “take back” movement equally confused and infuriated me. It was a mostly anonymous league of angry people who facebooked and blogged about how violence has taken over Lakeview and the “gangs” need to be removed. I saw a distinct lack of awareness that Lakeview was still one of the safest neighborhoods in the city and that the targets of their community outrage came to their community for the same reason that they did. People don’t come to Lakeview just for the safety or the real estate. They come to belong. To possibly meet a love interest. To support businesses that support their lifestyles. To hold their lovers hand in public without attracting dirty looks. So who are we “taking back” the neighborhood from?
I started We Are Halsted, a series of variety shows benefiting homeless youth, as a vessel to raise funds and awareness about homeless youth. I didn’t want to fault those who didn’t understand that these aren’t criminals in their community–they are homeless members of the community.
I believe that when someone is kicked out of a family in the heterosexual community that they then belong to the homosexual community. We can’t all open our doors but can support the amazing community organizations that are fighting to help. The one I have chosen to help is The Night Ministry.
The Night Ministry has been helping the homeless with food, shelter, empowerment and job placement since the 1970s. In the last year, they opened up a homeless shelter in Lakeview called The Crib. I have tried to be an ambassador to the queer community about this shelter because it is the only one of its kind in the Midwest yet not a lot of people know about it. We should feel a singular pride to be the first to respond to this growing problem of queer youth homelessness. Because it is a huge problem. Straight families are kicking out their queer youth and the queer community is largely unaware of them. By supporting The Crib, you are becoming a part of the solution.
One of my goals is to have an opportunity to celebrate this progress. With my We Are Halsted events, you can see an amazing world-class variety show, drink and dance with friends, all while supporting The Night Ministry’s The Crib. The next event is a week from today, appropriate a week after Thanksgiving. Give thanks to everything you are thankful for this weekend and next Thursday, December 1st, help those that are a part of your community at Berlin nightclub starting at 10. You can buy tickets at www.wearehalsted.eventbrite.com and there are only a few more days of discount tickets so don’t hesitate to buy them.
And, even if you can’t make it or you can’t donate, be a part of the progress by looking at all members of our community with a new level of understanding. These queer homeless youth belong to us now. And they are screaming, shouting, laughing, cat-walking and vogue-ing their way up and down Lakeview in an effort to be heard by a community where they wish to belong.
Throughout the next week, I’ll share my experiences with being homeless. Not as an effort to gain sympathy for myself but to relate the kinds of obstacles that queer homeless youth face in Chicago. Thanks for reading and Thankgiving!
We Are Halsted logo/family crest by Claude Abbott