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A day in the life after you've been kicked out for being LGBTQ.

Youth homelessness is an epidemic, especially for young LGBTQ people. Here are three of their stories.

Image by Michael Calcagno/Upworthy.

As darkness blanketed New York City, Skye Adrian sat alone outside his parents' apartment, devastated and left with very few options.

He had a feeling it could come to this, he tells me. His parents had warned him he better start looking for another place to stay, after all. Still, nothing quite prepares you for the moment your parents kick you out because you’re gay.


"I had nowhere to go," recalls the now 21-year-old of that spring night in 2015. An immigrant from Jamaica, Adrian had just moved to New York and had nowhere to turn. "I didn't know anybody. I'm not from here."

Queer youth homelessness remains at crisis levels in the United States. Research suggests up to 40% of all youth who are homeless identify as LGBTQ, with a disproportionate number of them being transgender and people of color. That’s an alarmingly high figure, considering just about 9% of all youth identify as LGBTQ.

Why are so many young LGBTQ people homeless? The heartbreaking reason, advocates say, is that many are rejected by parents who seem to think it's more acceptable for their children to sleep on the street than to be gay.

For kids like Adrian, once the sun goes down, safe options are few and far between.

You might be able to couch-surf at friends’ houses for a while — like Adrian ended up doing — but that’s no permanent solution. If you’re lucky, you might find a shelter that’s both safe and has an available bed. You might snag a spot on a subway train or a public place like the library, neither of which is ideal. There’s always a sidewalk, of course, a particularly dangerous terrain that leaves you vulnerable to anything from violence to freezing temperatures.

Or there’s the option of "survival sex." As the term suggests, it’s an exchange someone in desperate need makes in order to stay alive. It’s a tactic homeless LGBTQ teens and young people resort to more often than their straight, cisgender peers. For a time, Adrian — who eventually ran out of couches to crash on — began using a hook-up app on his phone to find guys looking for one-night stands and willing to let him stay overnight. The constant stress of finding new partners took a toll on him, though. He was exhausted in more ways than one.

"Of course, if you wanted to stay there, it had to be sex," he tells me. "I got tired of that."

Image by Michael Calcagno/Upworthy.

As the sun came up over Los Angeles, Ashlee Marie Preston knew it would bring another exhausting day simply trying to survive.

As a transgender woman of color living in L.A., Preston found herself relying on meth to keep up. Without a place to call her own, she didn’t see any other way to manage a dizzying way of life that required staying alert and engaged throughout the night, relying on survival sex and keeping up with a group of friends who often resorted to prostitution. It made sense that her sunrises and sunsets eventually began to blur together.

"Here we are, 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock in the morning — I’m nodding off and drinking coffee — then we’d go to the drop-in center to sleep in the chairs," she explains. It was never supposed to be like this, though.

Preston moved to L.A. from Kentucky in 2004. She wanted to live in a safer city, a place more accepting of people like her. But even on the liberal West Coast, Preston underestimated the barriers that would stand in her way.

Being black and trans, finding a job was tough, as it is for many people in her shoes. Even when she’d land one, keeping it proved to be just as difficult. Employers wouldn’t necessarily know she was trans when they hired her, she says. When they found out, things would take a turn — "they would find different reasons to get rid of me," she says.

Unable to find steady employment or a stable living arrangement, she eventually lost all the things she brought with her from Kentucky, including many friends who weren’t accepting of her transition. She was completely devastated.

That feeling of complete loss is what a lot of people don’t understand about homelessness, Preston reveals. It’s not just about losing a physical place, "it's mental, emotional, and spiritual displacement," too, she says. "I felt like I had nowhere to be in the world."

That’s when she would end up at the drop-in center, trying to get some shut-eye as the rest of the city began a regular morning.

She'd wake up in a chair, hopefully be able to take a shower, and do whatever she could before the space would close its doors on her again. Often, she couldn’t find a shelter that would accept her overnight — men's shelters cited safety liabilities, and women's shelters argued that the fact that she'd been assigned male at birth disqualified her from taking one of the beds. It’s a dilemma that's all too common for homeless trans people.

Regardless of the reason, the end result was always the same: Preston and her friends would be back out on the streets just trying to make it through another day. "We had to do it all over again," she says of the exhausting cycle. "It was like rinse and repeat."

Image by Michael Calcagno/Upworthy.

It’s a chaotic day in Manhattan when Giovanni Lamour picks up their phone.

Lamour, who is genderqueer and uses they/them pronouns, quickly apologizes to me for the background noise (an ambulance siren is blaring and kids are screaming nearby), but they’re happy to discuss their difficult past, even during a busy afternoon on-the-go while preparing for their future.

Their life might not seem like most other 24-year-olds’ at the moment — Lamour is living in an emergency housing facility in Queens when we chat — but they’re putting all the pieces together to get there.

Lamour, who grew up in Spanish Harlem, had just come from a clinic visit to make sure they’re staying on top of their health. HIV and hepatitis C testing is just one of many services provided by the Ali Forney Center, a nonprofit committed to helping homeless LGBTQ youth. Lamour has received counseling and college preparation help, benefited from the center’s housing programs, and worked on their job readiness skills (like résumé-writing), all courtesy of Ali Forney.

"I always want to learn something new and problem-solve," they explain. "Where there’s a will, there’s a way."

After Lamour's mother died when they were just 15 years old, they went to live with their father. Their relationship with their dad "really wasn’t the best," they say, admitting they’re in part to blame for a handful of rebellious teen years. But still, Lamour vividly remembers their father’s habit of locking them out of the apartment on summer nights. Feeling unwanted was painfully normal in Lamour's house.

In the decade or so since Lamour’s mother passed away, a series of strained and complicated relationships — with their dad, uncle, friends, and significant others — gradually fell apart. With nowhere else to go, Lamour became homeless. "It’s entirely depressing," Lamour says of their blood relatives, whose intolerance forced them to create a new family. “I’ve really, like, chosen my family — my friends around the city."

Image by Michael Calcagno/Upworthy.

As the sun slowly drops in the sky and families settle into their living rooms across the country, thousands of young, homeless LGBTQ people are left wondering.

They wonder if they’ll eat dinner. They wonder where they’ll rest their heads once the sun disappears. They wonder if the future has any room for them in it.

While many homeless LGBTQ youth struggle in a continuous loop of basic survival, some — like Adrian, Preston, and Lamour — get the help they need and are able to find their way out. "The struggle that you’re going through is real," Lamour wants those young people to know. "It’s real, it’s common, and there’s help there for you."

Today, Lamour is one of Ali Forney’s youth advocates, working to draw more attention to the crisis of LGBTQ youth homelessness. They helped the nonprofit prep for a queer youth summit, for instance, and are leading the charge on various new projects to further Ali Forney’s mission. They’re determined to get back into school someday to prepare for a future in public advocacy. They dream of studying abroad.

Last fall, Adrian, who is living in transitional housing, also began working with Ali Forney. He’s helped the center on various initiatives, like an HIV prevention campaign and the fight to get more shelter beds for young LGBTQ people.  

"I want to be a beacon of hope for all LGBT youth," Adrian explains, noting he’s focusing more on helping other young, queer immigrants like himself who’ve experienced similar struggles. "Regardless of you being homeless, you can still do what you need to get done."

And Preston? One day, she decided she deserved better, and she hasn’t looked back since.

"I remember thinking, 'You know what? I don't know what the plan is — I don't know what God, the universe, whatever, has in store for me,'" she says. "But I know it's no mistake that I'm still here."

The day we talk, Preston is prepping for a meeting at Facebook’s headquarters in San Francisco. Now she’s a media advocate and diversity speaker, focused on elevating the conversations around youth homelessness.

Adrian, Preston, and Lamour aren’t just overcoming their own battles — they’re fighting to save more young lives along the way.

Each and every LGBTQ kid should know they’re loved, after all.

They deserve to wake up to a better tomorrow.

To learn more and help fight LGBTQ youth homelessness, support organizations on the front lines of the crisis, like the Ali Forney Center, the Happy Hippie Foundation, and My Friend's Place.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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