Estimates are that 40% of homeless youth identity as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer. Considering LGBT youth make up only 5-10% of the population in general, the fact that so many homeless youth are queer is troubling. But what can be done to prevent LGBT homelessness?
Jill Hardman and Chloe Michelle Noble have an idea. The two are walking across America to raise awareness about LGBTQ homeless youth. While on their journey, they hope to meet with youth and concerned community members, reach out to the media and stage sit-ins (which they are calling Shines) in each of the cities they visit.
The two started in Seattle, Washington on May 7th and plan to walk to San Francisco, then east across the country. Their goal is to cover 6000 miles, (over 3000 of it on foot), to raise awareness about homeless LGBTQ youth in America.
In the words of Chloe Noble, "We are walking simply because we believe that our youth should not have to live on the streets, sleeping in the cold, wondering how they are going to get their own needs met." Homeless LGBTQ youth are also more at risk for physical abuse, sexual exploitation, mental health disabilities, and chemical or alcohol dependency, and death.
"Almost 40% of homeless youth in America identify as LGBTQ," says Noble, "This diverse group of Queer youth has a profound and powerful voice. We want to support them in their progress and give them a platform to stand on. Studies show that many LGBTQ homeless youth who receive appropriate guidance, support, resources, and encouragement, eventually become successful members of the LGBTQ community. By raising awareness we hope to inspire others to make sure more resources are available to all homeless youth for this reason."
Chloe answered a few of my questions about the walk and what she hopes to accomplish by her journey.
Lesbian Life: How did you decide to walk across the country for homeless youth?
: It had been just a concept rolling around in my head for a few years until I met Jill Hardman.
She inspired me to do whatever I can to make it truly happen. Now Homeless Youth Pride Walk
2009 is receiving national media attention and that is going to go a long way for the homeless LGBTQ youth in America. Every major city we walk through will be having a media event called a Shine. We expect thousands of people to participate in a walk that will be both for homeless LGBTQ youth and the gay civil rights movement. These collective city-wide media events are called Operation Shine.
Tell me more about Operation Shine
Operation Shine was created so that inspired citizens could participate in HYPW without having to leave their city. Numerous people ask us if they can walk with us across the country, but we can not provide them with the adequate resources or protection required. So we are incorporating the passion of these activists with their local communities in creating city-wide "shines", that will empower every major city that we walk through, in becoming a part of the solution in ending youth homelessness within this generation. Operation Shine is also an opportunity for the LGBTQ community of America to stand with the homeless LGBTQ youth.
The first Shine will be The Seattle Shine on Friday, May 22 2009 at the West Lake Center Park.
In what ways do you think your walk will bring publicity to the issue? Tell me about the media projects you plan to do along the way.
Homeless Youth Pride Walk is already receiving national media attention, which helps bring attention to the struggles and the achievements of local organizations working hard to end youth homelessness. Since HYPW has a national impact from the beginning, coupled with the local community aspect, it encourages our nation to not just be aware of this epidemic, but it also empowers them to do something about it. When people first become aware of the homeless youth epidemic, they often feel a strong desire to help in any way they can. Now with Operation Shine in full effect, they can immediately help on a local level where it is most needed. Both events working together are generating a unique momentum, where America is simultaneously becoming aware of these issues, while being able to quickly take that awareness and turn it into local action. .
Are there specific policy changes you are advocating, or this more about changing people’s hearts and minds?
This is about raising awareness of the homeless LGBTQ youth epidemic in America. One of the main reasons why youth homelessness is getting worse, is because American citizens are not often aware of how big and how damaging this issue really is. Some of the core causes of youth homelessness are abuse within the family, lack of awareness, lack of education, and lack of resources. We also need legislation that will allow private or public organizations to offer these resources to families in need and also to youth who are currently displaced.
How many miles a day will you walk? Where will you sleep?
We will be spending the first few days once entering a city indoors - finalizing the SHINE for that city. Then OPERATION SHINE will kick in - we will have the sit-in and cause a great stir. Then off to the next city, walking 15 to 20 miles a day. That's anywhere from 6-9 hours of walking. It will take us 6 to 9 months to complete the walk.
In what ways will homeless LGBT youth be involved in the walk?
Although everyone is encouraged to participate in OPERATION SHINE, these city-wide media events are created especially for homeless LGBTQ youth.Our goal is to unify empowered youth and homeless youth, that they may shine for one another and inspire each other to remain authentic even under the worst conditions. All youth have a great desire to express who they are without fear and to also share that sense of empowerment with others. Operation Shine will continue in the future for other at-risk youth issues in America. However, this year, Operation Shine 2009, is an opportunity for all LGBTQ youth in America to shine together, to rise above adversity, and to stand strong with our straight allies in the continuing of the Civil Rights Movement.
Follow Homeless Youth Pride Walk on their Blog.