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A Publicity Update and Definition February 19, 2009

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We have a couple events scheduled now (which are described on the Calendar page), and we have sent some posters to the copier (aka Dev).  Anyway, our posters follow two major themes – DID YOU KNOW? and HOME … We are pretty excited about them because they are simple, direct, and striking visually.  We think they will be on bright yellow paper, and probably everywhere (we’re getting 50 of them!), so keep an eye out.  The DidYou Know? posters detail some startling facts about the issue of LGBT homelessness, suchas that 26% of LGBT youth are kicked out of their homes when they come out, up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and that around one-third of homeless gay youth engage in survival sex.

Survival sex is not always a familiar concept to people, so I will quickly define it for you.  It is especially overlooked in the U.S.A., where our government takes such a normative approach to sexual pleasure and sex work.  I do not endorse sex work, but the paranoia around “promoting prostitution” demonstrated in HIV/AIDS policies and the lack of support for sex workers, who I view as victims, is a disservice to this often vulnerable population.  Anyway, survival sex is when people, in this case LGBT homeless youth, prostitute themselves in order to afford food, shelter, or drugs to numb the pain.

Some people may say drugs don’t count as survival, but numbing the pain is sometimes a necessity if you are rejected from home (many are even physically assaulted when they come out), homeless, and forced to sell your body for food.  Anyway, that could be a completely different post.  My point is that while the government treats the people who engage in survival sex as deviant criminals, they should be treated as victims of systemis and cultural failings, and supported so they can remove themselves from a psychologically and physically detrimental mode of survival.

As for our events, we will be tabling Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoon of next week, the 24th-26th, and we are volunteering that Saturday, the 28th.  We may or may not have a speaker, since the group we were working with on that had to back out because of other commitments.  We will have a film we can screen about homeless youth if the speaker doesn’t work out, though, and so the backup plan makes me much more comfortable about our prospects.

Additionally, I was doing a lot of the organizing early in the process due to my status as contact person with the shelters, but now Alexandre and Ruth have both taken on a lot more logistical details – getting transport, tabling, a script for legislation, designing posters, etc.  I have really enjoyed getting knee-deep in this issue and my compatriots have been great so far, really keeping me grounded when I go off on crazy or overly ambitious ideas.  I am so excited for next week, now that things are finally falling into place.

– Jane


Status Update February 8, 2009

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So, we’re halfway through the term, and what has Carleton OUT on the Streets organized so far?  Well, we have gotten in touch with a great organization called The Bridge for Youth, which does a lot of work for homeless youth, providing a safe space 24 hours a day, with special support programs for LGBTQ youth.  We have contacted Chelsea Miller, the Development Coordinator there, and we’re working on getting together a speaker and tour of the facility.  We are still working on something volunteer-related, though.  It can be difficult to find a need for a large group of people, especially when a lot of the services provided are counseling or housing or another long-term support which requires training.  Hopefully we can find something fun and helpful for the youth there.

We also tried to get in touch with District 202, a queer youth community center, which is well known around the community.  In fact, I was watching a documentary called After Stonewall, narrated by the one and only Melissa Etheridge, and they mentioned District 202 and the amazing work it does.  I haven’t heard back from my initial email requesting information, so I think we’re going to pretty much exclusively work with the Bridge for Youth, which will provide some continuity and focus.

We haven’t done a lot of work about the legislative end of our movement yet.  We need to come up with a script and have laptops for use for emailing and letter writing and things.  I would prefer, however, to use mainly calls and letters, as those have a greater impact.  We would need to talk to Campus Activities, I think, in order to arrange tabling in Sayles.  We will also need to have this capability at our speaker presentation, so people can do this right after hearing about the issue, and maybe even after our volunteer day.  We tried to get in contact with some groups/people suggested by Adrienne, but one didn’t respond and the other directed us elsewhere, so those didn’t work out.  I was a bit disappointed about one of them, because this person sounded like an excellent resource for our cause.

I am worried that a lot of it will come down to that particular week – doing lots of last-minute planning.  I think we have the groundwork, but we need to solidify dates, schedule things, reserve spaces, and get the word out.  That’s a lot to do before 8th week – we decided to wait until 8th week because of our planning progress, and scheduling around other activities on campus – a lot of people active with the Gender and Sexuality Center will be doing OWL training 7th weekend, and we anticipate a lot of our potential volunteers will be involved with the Gender and Sexuality Center.  Hopefully people’s general busy-ness levels won’t make that timing a problem.

I am worried about this being short-term.  I want to have an interest meeting the week before our activities and get a group that will help table and be interested in volunteering.  In addition, on a personal level, I would really love to continue working with the Bridge for Youth or District 202 or any of the other great organizations that I have discovered in this search.  I have managed to find an issue I really want to help with, and hopefully I can convey that to the organizations and possibly talk with the ACT Center about setting up a regular arrangement or extending awareness of this into Spring Term and beyond.

To that end, I am excited about the reception we’ve been getting in preliminary discussions of this issue with GSC staff and student workers – they are very supportive, and even looking at incorporating fundraisers for some of these organizations in Pride Planning in April.  Most people have never heard about this issue or feel very insulated from it, but discussions with individuals have been rewarding so far – it might help that those people are my friends.  However, I really hope to not only gain support from the “usual suspects,” but also people who become interested in the issue for reasons other than friendship and simply doing lots of activities with the GSC.  These people are certainly valuable resources and great support, but I would love to see new faces getting involved too.

– Jane

A meditation on the difference between 60’s Activism and Today, and how it applies to us. February 4, 2009

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For left-leaning college students such as us, the 60’s represents a sort of golden-age of activism. This quasi-mythical golden age was when we college students actually made a difference-a loud and visible difference, helping to forever change American history. Students participated in sit-ins and strikes, and risked their lives during the Freedom Summer of 1964 to educate African-Americans about their rights and help strengthen the civil rights movement. Encouraged by their gains in the civil rights movement, student culture in the US went on to work hard against the Vietnam war-protests, strikes, and a complete rejection of all reactionary authority spread across campuses like a wildfire. Even sleepy little Northfield had its share of protest-in 1968, 500 students and teachers from Carleton and St. Olaf marched through the town-quite a large number, considering the relatively small size of both colleges.

So what happened? According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, our generation isn’t less activist-it’s just quieter about it. Instead of marching, we volunteer, at home or overseas, quietly working for change. Friedman’s opinion is that we are certainly humble and optimistic-but that we need the loudness, the visibility, and, above all, the courage of our 60’s brethren. This, and only this, can bring true and lasting change according to Mr. Friedman.

My first reaction towards this editorial was to dismiss it-the 1960’s style of activism was certainly not without its drawbacks, no matter what Mr. Friedman’s opinion is. Reading about the speeches made by the leaders of the 500-person march into Northfield, I was astounded by their ignorance and paternalistic attitude towards the Viet Cong. For them the Viet Cong, and it seemed all 3rd world people, were practically non-entities, poor starving masses who would gladly turn to the “light” of America as soon as their bellies were full. That the Viet Cong were a highly disciplined organization with intelligent leaders and an agenda that right or wrong they strongly believed in and would fight for to the death for did not seem to occur to these protesters. Reading Jasper’s “The Art of Moral Protest” reveals the very sorry remains of the movements began in the 1960’s by the early 1970’s: partisans of totalitarian ideologies such as Maoism dismissing whichever worthy cause they found to be too “bourgeois”, band-wagon hopping protesters showing up at whatever cause their friends were showing up too, and “anarcho-pagans” who seemed to feel that casting magic spells were a useful form of Luddite sabotage. In light of such foolishness, one cannot help but to wonder if modern day activists are better off forgetting the 60’s in everything except rhetoric. The methods of the activism of the 1960’s, as well as the culture it produced seems better off forgotten.

However, one cannot deny the successes of the Civil Rights or the environmentalist movements of the 1960’s. The gay rights movement as a whole has a lot to relearn from these movements, particularly in light of the virulently homophobic laws passed in many States this past election. While their situations are very different, there are still striking parallels between the situation of African-Americans in the 1960’s and the LGBTQ community today. Both are treated as 2nd-class citizens in their own country, given inferior protection under the law and denied equal rights. Both are minorities, and as such need to gain allies and spread awareness of their plight in order to advance their cause. The gay-rights movement, like the civil rights movement, can gain a lot of strength by standing up publicly to oppression and denouncing the blatant unfairness of intolerance and unequal rights.

Our specific little movement fighting homelessness among LGBT youth illustrates some lessons that we need to learn from the 1960’s, at least if we hope to have an effect that lasts longer than a single term. We need to show people the moral outrage that is the high levels of homelessness among LGBT youth, to appeal to people’s sense of justice. We need to denounce homeless shelters that discriminate against LGBT people, though our methods must be modern. We can’t just tell homeless shelters “stop discriminating”-we must help them find a way to help the LBGT community that satisfies as many people as possible. In the case of transgender people in these shelters for example, a compromise must be reached between the transgender individuals who do not wish to be housed with their opposite gender, and the individuals who feel uncomfortable with being housed with someone who appears to them to be the opposite gender. Protests at homeless shelters are unlikely to be very effective-unlike businesses in the Deep South, the managers of homeless shelters will not be easily framed as discriminatory monsters, as they are providing a vital community service. The managers of homeless shelters are experienced humanitarians, and will probably not take kindly to snotnosed college students telling them how to do their job-they must be approached with respect if we are to have an impact on their methods. The methods of the quiet generation, of service in and support for GLBT-friendly shelters must mesh with the methods of the 60’s generation, of standing up to and denouncing injustice.


Some Facts and Figures February 1, 2009

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the number of homeless and runaway youth ranges from 575,000 to 1.6 million per year.  Our analysis of the available research suggests that between 20 percent and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Given that between 3 percent and 5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as lesbian, gay or bisexual, it is clear that LGBT youth experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate.

Family conflict is the primary cause of homelessness for all youth, LGBT or straight. Specifically, familial conflict over a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a significant factor that leads to homelessness or the need for out-of-home care.  According to one study, 50 percent of gay teens experienced a negative reaction from their parents when they came out and 26 percent were kicked out of their homes.  Another study found that more than one-third of youth who are homeless or in the care of social services experienced a violent physical assault when they came out, which can lead to youth leaving a shelter or foster home because they actually feel safer on the streets.

(You can access the pdf full document through this website “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness”)

Of course the facts continue.  LGBT youth are more likely to consider and attempt suicide (about 5 times more likely than heterosexual youth), to suffer from depression, to engage in dangerous sexual activities, to use illicit substances, and to have been sexually victimized (58.7% of LGBT homeless youth vs. 33.4% of heterosexual homeless youth).  Some of these figures are a bit older but the trends remain the same, and of course you find the same trends if you keep comparing other facts.  It’s a huge problem that very few are paying attention to.


A Fragmented System of Organizations February 1, 2009

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After deciding the basic plan for what we wanted to achieve we started to contact other organizations in the region that could give us some guidance, offer volunteer opportunities, and perhaps provide a speaker.  A few Internet searches provided many different types of organizations, which could usually be put in one of the following categories: legislative activism or local support center/shelters.  Usually the organizations either focused on homelessness issues or LGBT issues, but not both.  The few cases that focused on both were the local support centers that had more direct contact the people they served.  Though I expected this fragmentation, it is amazing to see it in practice.  Each group is very specialized for their issue.  In most cases if you ask about anything outside their normal scope they refer you to a different organization.

We started contacting local support organizations that might be willing to host us for a volunteer project.  Some were youth homeless shelters that also offered programs for LGBT youth; others were local community centers for LGBT youth.  These kinds of organizations were most likely have some focus on both homelessness and LGBT issues.  Larger groups usually did not cover such a specific issue and recommended we contact more local groups.  For example, when we called the Minnesota branch of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, they essentially told us that they don’t really deal with those issues (which may be evidence of elitism in LGBT movements as Jane suggests in her post).  They recommended a local LGBT youth center instead.

We encountered some of the same problems when tried to contact groups that specialized in the Minnesota Youth Advancement Act.  We are particularly interested in a subsection of this act: the Minnesota Homeless and Runaway Youth Act.  We contacted a group called Grasstops.  According to their website,

“Grasstops directs the Minnesota Youth Advancement Act (MYAA) for the Minnesota Youth Services Association, a comprehensive effort to pursue public policy reform to increase opportunities and resources for youth, and was part of the advocacy effort that successfully secured $1 million in state funding for Runaway and Homeless Youth Services!”

This seemed the obvious choice contact, but when we did contact them, though they were happy to talk about the MN Youth Advancement Act in general, they had transferred the work on the MN Homelessness and Runaway Youth Act to the MN Coalition for the Homeless.

What we have found as we attempt to contact organizations in the MN area is a highly fragmented and specialized system.  Each organization has its own group of issues, especially the larger organizations such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the MN Coalition for the Homeless.  They have identified certain issues and if your issue does not quite fit, they refer you another organization.  The problem with this is that bridge issues that span multiple organizations—such as LGBT homeless youth—get lost in the cracks at the state and national level; the organizations dealing with broader areas and legislation.  The organizations that do deal with these bridging issues are the local organizations that serve people in one city or district.  Because people’s problems cannot be divided into specific categories, these organizations are forced to deal with multiple issues and the bridges between them.  However, because their resources are focused on helping individual people, they usually cannot expand to making broader cultural or policy change.

When considering this problem I always think of the European Union.  The EU is very fragmented and has often been asked the question “If the President of the United States wants to call the EU, who does it call?”  Carleton Out on the Streets has faced the same problem.  Who do we call?  The answer so far is that there is no one organization.  Instead we call organization after organization and try to gain the information we need from each in an attempt to bridge the gaps.


Emotional Responses January 27, 2009

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What kind of emotional response is necessary to activate students to think about queer, homeless youth?  Most students are neither queer nor homeless, so where is the appeal?  I have been grappling with the idea of who we can recruit to help in our movement.  We have discussed the idea of Carleton as an apathetic campus.  Students are busy, the weather is cold, there are too many groups fighting for attention and participation – how can we find a niche for such a specific issue that is so difficult to combat from where we sit?  Yes, we can organize a volunteer day, push legislation and raise awareness, but somehow it feels hollow coming from (mostly) white, straight, upper middle-class, educated people.  I believe in the cause, there is no question about that, but it is hard to envision a lasting movement or interest evolving out of this.  The GSC already does so much, and they are still working on expanding to be inclusive and educational about the “T” in LGBTA.  There is honestly an epidemic of homelessness among queer youth, but it feels difficult to comprehend when I feel so insulated.

It feels like a problem that can only be addressed with systemic, societal change, with an LGBT movement that doesn’t just work for middle-aged, middle-class white gay men, but one that works for young genderqueer, lesbian, or bisexual people of all colors and backgrounds.  This is certainly not the movement that exists today.  The fight for marriage equality, while I support it wholeheartedly, is clearly an elitist movement.  Who can worry about marriage when the only source of food is the money you get from prostitution in the bushes, or you are freezing in -20 degree weather?

My point is not to dishearten or reduce feelings of efficacy, only to raise my own personal doubts about how we can enact some form of change.  I do believe that if we are successful in our three events that we hope to put on, that we will be able to make some small contribution.  However, the more I look critically at the issues we’re addressing and the issues being addressed by large mainstream LGBT rights organizations, I find a failing to address the LGBT future – the young people who need support.  Yes, many people need the supports of legal hospital visitation rights or adoption rights, etc., but that seems to pale in comparison to the issues of shelter, food, and the most basic kind of love and support.  Grassroots organizations are the ones doing this, not the large conglomerate coalitions.

But to return to my original topic, I believe we will have to illustrate to people that those young queer kids on the streets could be them.  Your parents don’t like your major?  your significant other? your religious/political beliefs? your friends?  All those are essentially analogous to being kicked out of the house for being gay.  In fact, many of those are easier to hide or change than sexuality.  That’s the angle I think we must use – think of their lost opportunities!  All we ask to help the kids who should be your peers is that you write a letter, attend a talk, and give up part of a Saturday in order to really understand what these kids, who are often your age or your sibling’s age, need in the form of support.  I don’t think fear is the right emotion – perhaps outrage at the lack of support they receive.  Outrage will motivate the legislation drive, I think, while compassion will motivate those who volunteer at the shelter.

We can trigger outrage by providing an enemy to blame – the systemic mistreatment of queer youth by families, religious groups, and even other homeless people.  This seems vague and huge, so the unfortunate side effect might be a lowering of political efficacy – when the fight is too big, one feels very small.  We can trigger compassion by tugging at heartstrings – pictures and stories of youth who chose to freeze to death rather than endure hostile shelter environments, kids with futures who were rejected by their parents and driven to subsistence prostitution, etc., etc.  Ignoring people who may categorically hate queer people, no matter their age, plight, or situation (few of which seem to exist at Carleton, our main target community), the emotion of compassion shouldn’t be hard to evoke.  The challenge will be to make sure students feel empowered to help.  We have to educate and motivate, and then present opportunities to channel that.  Without that ability to package those events like this, we will be unable to garner a decent turnout for either of our action-oriented events.

Welcome to Carleton OUT on the Streets! January 22, 2009

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Welcome to OUT on the Streets, a group founded by Jane Sturges, Ruth Aufderheide, and Alexandre Adrian, three juniors at Carleton College in POSC 358: Comparative Social Movements.

We are very concerned with the situation of LGBT youth (and adults) who have become homeless, whether due to poverty, societal/familial rejection, or a myriad of other possible reasons.  The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has estimated that between 20-40% of homeless youth on any given night are identified as queer/LGBT.  This lack of societal support, compounded by age and many youths’ inability to support themselves has resulted in a widespread problem that needs to be confronted.  Queer youth, especially those of color, are experiencing poverty and homelessness disproportionately as compared to their heterosexual, Caucasian counterparts.  The problems of prejudice and misunderstanding on the part of many people have resulted in queer youth being mistreated or turned away from shelters and not given the particular support they need.  In many cases, shelters are unsafe or unwelcoming, and an increasing number of queer youth are choosing to take their chances on the streets, leaving them vulnerable to abuse, weather, hate, and the constant possibility of general crime.  Many resort to selling their bodies and sex for money to survive.  They often are abused or contract STIs, but have little ability to receive the care they need.  In addition, since many of these young people are runaways, they do not have the education or resources to find legal, respectable work.

Our goal is to raise awareness at Carleton College, and to encourage students to take action to support these young people.  We are working on coordinating a volunteer day, a possible speaker, and a possible legislation campaign.  All three facets: awareness, policy, and personal exposure/volunteerism are integral to gaining knowledge and creating a better situation for the young people so greatly affected by their lack of structural support and ability to support themselves.  We are excited and ready to begin this project we find so moving and important to our society.