The Struggles of Being Young, Homeless and LGBT
When Crimson Jordan's mother told him that, if he wanted to make a gender transition, he would have to get out her house, Jordan chose to leave for good.
It was an easy decision for 17-year-old Jordan, who says he'd been verbally, physically and sexually abused in that home by his step-dad, and had never been accepted by either parent. They were both conservative Christian pastors, and to them, being gay or trans was a sin as bad as murder. They could enter homes and convince other families within hours that, if they accepted their children as gay, they all would go to hell.
Jordan started presenting as male at school at age 16, the same year he also became the president of his school's Gay Straight Alliance. And that's when the problems at home got worse. When Jordan's mother tried to force him to wear a skirt and he refused, she slapped him and grabbed him by the ear, shaking his head violently. He left home for three months after that, living on friends' couches and for a while in an apartment his mother had rented out as an office. He came back home after Child Protective Services kicked his step-dad out of the house—where his siblings still lived—and shortly after, CPS ordered his mother to take him to a psychiatrist. He was diagnosed him with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (which his parents rejected, he says, because they believed mental illness was demonic possession). Jordan tried to overdose on the meds once—sick of living in a place where his own mother rejected his gender identity.
So when she told him he would have to leave if he wanted to be who he was, Jordan took advantage.
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He met a host of other homeless LGBT kids like him at the Montrose Center's Hatch Youth group and the Houston Independent School District's Homeless Education Office, which would ultimately help Jordan get into the University of Houston. Most of the other kids, though, weren't as fortunate to have friends take them in, like Jordan had. “I think the hardest part about it was, especially if you're LGBT, there are so many stories of abuse of LGBT individuals in quote-unquote safe places,” Jordan told the Houston Press. “Some people don't realize how hard it is for LGBT people, who don't have a place to stay, to find a safe place at a shelter. Sometimes that's the worst place you can go, because they don't know how to accept you, or where to put you.”
That's exactly what Homeless Gay Kids Houston is trying to fix. By mid-next year, it plans to raise $300,000 to build an LGBT-specific youth drop-in center that will run seven days a week. It will offer meals, support programs, counseling and therapy, and even medical and dental services (some board members have their own practices). Board member Bill McDugald said that all volunteers will need to be vetted and trained before they can help so that the shelter can provide tailored services to this community. McDugald said that, down the road, they ultimately hope to turn the drop-in center into a shelter with beds.
“There are a number of organizations in town doing some very good work with homeless youth. But none of them are focused specifically on LGBT youth,” McDugald said. “They're not focused on the specific needs of the kids, which tend to be emotional distress and stigmatization of being gay or trans, which is a little different than just not getting along with parents.”
One place that youth homeless can go is the Kinder Shelter, an emergency shelter run by CPS. If they're over 18, they can go to the Covenant House shelter. But Deb Murphy—who works as a youth specialist with Hatch and NEST, a coalition seeking to end LGBT youth homelessness by 2020—said that every time she offers these shelters to kids, they usually decline. Mostly, she said, it's because they don't want to go back to an environment full of rules—but also, she said it may be because they don't feel comfortable as LGBT kids.
A May 2015 survey by University of Houston social work professor Sarah Narendorf found that, of 420 homeless kids surveyed in Houston, 25 percent of them identified as LGBT. Thirty percent of those LGBT kids had no shelter. Thirty-six percent had attempted suicide, and 42 percent had traded sex for food or a roof. Murphy said this study was important because previous counts were strictly limited to kids who stayed in homeless shelters or on the street, leaving out kids like Jordan who couch surfed.
Homeless Gay Kids Houston were not around when Jordan, now 19, was caught in the throes of uncertainty the first time he got on his bike and hit the street. He's still living with a friend, and he still thinks frequently about the other homeless kids he lost touch with, unsure if they, too, were able to get into college with aspirations as big as his. He doesn't know where they went, or if they ever found shelter.