Empowering Voices – As Spring Blooms, We Need to Prevent Dark Days for LGBTQ Young People

For most people I know, spring in Kansas City is a good thing. It’s a symbol of rebirth, awakening and joy. The flowers and trees are blooming. You might celebrate Easter, or celebrate the day after Easter when all the candy goes on sale. Farmers’ markets are about to appear. The weather is finally nice enough for outdoor events like AIDS Walk, and we’re a hop, skip and a jump away from events celebrating Pride.

Spring is a time when many in our community, myself included, come out of winter hibernation to reconnect with old friends and maybe even meet a new one or two.

This is why I’ve always found it challenging that this time of year is also when we are asked to tackle some really difficult topics.

April is both Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It would be really easy to ignore these important events every April, to push them aside, further back in our minds, until a darker, gloomier time of the year. No one would mind talking about violence in November, or maybe February, right? Get it out of the way while everyone’s already dealing with a little bit of seasonal affective disorder.

I disagree. I actually think it’s really important that we recognize these issues at exactly this time of year. Many individuals who are dealing with violence, particularly young people, don’t get to turn that off just because the weather is nice or because baseball season has started.

This April, I’m asking you to join me in interrupting the typical talk at happy hour. I’m asking you, despite the perfect patio weather, to start talking about child abuse prevention. I’m asking you to do this, because child abuse and neglect is an LGBTQ issue. It’s not as pretty of an issue as marriage equality, but we need to talk about it.

LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in the foster care system and experience higher rates of homelessness and displacement than straight, cisgender youth. A 2006 study (The Task Force) estimated that 20-40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Most homeless LGBTQ youth report having been in a child welfare placement in the past. Some of these young people ended up in the foster care system because of family rejection or abuse during the coming-out process, but many were already experiencing abuse and neglect before coming out. This puts them in the difficult and often dangerous position of coming out while in the child welfare system. This can lead to harassment, discrimination, sexual violence, further abuse and often homelessness.

After coming out as LGBTQ, many youth are kicked out of their homes by foster parents who refuse to care for LGBTQ kids. The Kansas City Anti-Violence Project does provide training for many professionals in the child welfare system, but foster parents are not required to go through training to work with LGBTQ kids and they can refuse to provide care for a child for any reason, including sexual orientation or gender identity. One study in New York City actually showed that “78 percent of LGBTQ youth were removed from or ran away from foster-care placements because such placements were unwelcoming or even hostile toward their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

We cannot sit back and watch silently while so many LBGTQ youth are being failed. They are being failed by their families of origin who have abused, neglected or kicked them out. They are being failed by a child welfare system that does not provide consistent or appropriate care for them. And sadly, they are being failed by us, their community. We need to and can step up and support youth who are survivors of abuse and neglect.

First and foremost, let’s make this our issue. Let’s talk about the treatment of youth in foster care at our events, at our fundraisers and at brunch with our friends. Join the board of an organization that provides services for homeless youth. Become a foster parent. Considering adoption? There are tons of LGBTQ kids that need a loving home. Volunteer for a group that advocates for LBGTQ youth, like KCAVP or Passages youth group.

Let’s just do something. These members of our community deserve our support. It’s the least we can do.

Victoria Pickering is the education and outreach coordinator for the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. KCAVP’s vision is to end all types of violence in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.