Finding a Safe Space for Dallas' Homeless LGBTQ Youth
When they come out, gay teens must often deal with unsupportive, even hostile parents. Sometimes, parents even go so far as to kick the kids out of their homes. If they attend a Dallas ISD school, they become one of the roughly 3,400 homeless students in the district. By some guesses, although it is impossible to put a definitive number to the group, hundreds of LGBTQ youth are homeless in Dallas.
Mark Pierce, a spokesman for Dallas ISD Homeless Education Program, says that many of the district's students end up homeless because of their sexual orientation. "There's a lot of different reasons why they're homeless ... A lot of times they've been asked to leave home because of sexual preference."
Michael Cruz, program manager for the Resource Center's Youth First Program for LGBTQ teens, says nearly all the homeless kids he sees at the Center have experienced extreme difficulties at home. "If someone experiences homelessness, it's often for leaving a bad housing situation. They run away, they get kicked out, or sometimes they age out of the foster care system," he says.
But homeless LGBTQ teens are usually not found sleeping on city park benches. Kids often end up couch-surfing, or living with friends until they can figure out their housing situations. "Youth are very well-connected because of social media, and very resourceful. Often if someone needs immediate help, they will find it based on social media connections," Cruz says. "Young people are able to identify their sexual, gender identified feelings, put a name on that, and go online and find real-life resources for themselves."
Gay and transgender kids often don't find that sort of support from their straight parents, who have a hard time coming to terms with their kids' sexuality. "Parents struggle with raising a teen, and then their teen has this identity that they know nothing about and may be confused about. There's a whole slew of things the parents have to know about," Cruz says. "It's a complex situation, I think, for straight parents. How do straight parents wrap their minds around a gender identity that they can't relate to?"
This confusion can easily translate to animosity. When this happens, this kids often end up at the center, where they receive housing referrals. "What we provide is socially supportive programming and counseling," says Cruz. "We are a program for young people to come in, help themselves to food in the kitchen. We refer them out to housing, and then they engage in those programs and requirements as they're able."
But most of the time, what these kids need most is a welcoming and nurturing environment, where they can open up to peers about their sexuality. "There's a level of complexity by sometimes having social isolation," says Cruz. "We provide a place for a young person to come in, and just be themselves in a safe, supportive space."
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