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Friday, December 18, 2009

Gay Kids Need Your Help

Joe.My.God. publishes a letter from Carl Siciliano, director of the Ali Forney Center in New York City:
I get very angry at the hell so many LGBT teens are put through.

A few months ago a man named Anthony reached out to me to tell me a terrible story. He knew of a teen in upstate New York whose family learned he was gay and threw him out. A few days later the boy tried to return home, only to be told that if he returned again his father would kill him and bury him in the backyard. The boy tried to survive in nearby towns eating out of garbage cans and sleeping in parking lots. Anthony was the last person who saw the boy alive; Anthony was the train conductor who slammed on the brakes when the boy jumped in front of his train, ending his life.

When I first began to work with homeless teens in the mid 1990's I met a gay boy who had nowhere to stay. We sent him to what at that time was the one youth shelter in NYC, Covenant House, a large Roman Catholic Shelter. The first night he stayed there he was placed in a dorm with about 15 other kids. After he fell asleep, the other kids in the dorm gathered around him and urinated on him to show their hatred and unwillingness to share their dorm with a gay person. I cannot tell you how many similar stories I have heard over the years, of LGBT kids being gay-bashed, humiliated and abused at Covenant House. Back in the 90's most LGBT kids felt safer sleeping on the streets.

I feel strongly that we, the LGBT Community, who call on each other to come out of the closet, have to be there to protect teens who come out only to be rejected and abandoned. I am very proud of the work that the Ali Forney Center now does to protect these kids and help them heal the trauma they've been put through, and help them rebuild their lives. We offer housing, food, clothing, medical care, mental health treatment, and vocational and educational assistance. We, and the many people who support us and volunteer for us become an extended family, who give these kids the love and support their own families cannot give.

Last month was big for us; we opened a new shelter, increasing the number of youths we are able to house to 58 per night. It actually seems like a miracle when you consider that we were able to expand even though we lost $450K this year in government support. If we have a saint in heaven watching over us, it must be Bea Arthur, who left us $300K in her estate! I was actually frightened we would be forced by the funding cuts to shut down before Bea came to our rescue.

The biggest miracle for me though is seeing our kids thrive. Right now 16 of the kids staying with us are attending college, and over 20 have found jobs. One young woman who has been living with us for two years and is ready to move out on her own is fielding offers to work in the research departments of Stanford and Brown Universities! Over a thousand kids have stayed with us since we opened in 2002, and a great many are now living proudly on their own.

In this hard time of government cutbacks, we need the support of the community more than ever before. Many of you have been very kind to us. I am appealing once more for your generosity and support . (Thanks to all of you who voted for us in the LiquidNet Challenge. We were given a $10K check today!). Together we can help these kids overcome the hatred and cruelty they have endured. Together we can show these kids that they are as worthy as anyone else of being loved.

For more information on making a donation please visit our site: Ali Forney Center.

I hope that all of you have a joyful and peaceful holiday season.

Carl Siciliano
Executive Director
Ali Forney Center
What I Say:  I was blessed to have my mom's full, loving support when I came out to her. But there are so many LGBT kids who are disowned by their families, kicked out with nowhere to go, in big cities and in rural areas alike - even in the blue state wonderland, as Siciliano relates.

My late husband's first partner was kicked out of the house by his parents at age 16, and walked/hitchiked all the way from northern Oklahoma to New Orleans, where a kindly aunt took him in and made a home for him. But many kids are not so lucky to have someone who will do that.  And imagine, too, all that could happen to a teen on the road like that, friendless and alone.

I see from a little Googling that there are about a dozen LGBT youth shelters around the country. This Christmas, while you are spending freely on lots of decorations and festivities and presents and crap, why not think about sending a donation to help some kids who really need a friend? If not to the Ali Forney center, then perhaps to one closer to where you live.

Whatever your circumstances are now, just remember: it could have been you, Mary.

So give a damn.

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