April 15, 2016 by Guest Blogger
Protecting LGBTQ Youth
Did you know that nearly 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT compared to up to 10 percent for non-LGBT youth?
When Rick Westbrook and friends from the Atlanta Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence saw homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth being turned away from local shelters and aid programs, they resolved that something needed to be done. They called a public town hall meeting to form a plan, and in November 2011 established a privately funded emergency shelter, the Saint Lost and Found Project.
Almost five years later, the now titled Lost-n-Found Youth is Atlanta’s only non-profit organization dedicated to taking homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth off the street. In addition to a shelter, the organization runs a thrift store to support programs like GED courses and testing, and a drop-in center to provide services and resources like changes of clothing and computer access. To date, Lost-n-Found has helped over 1,000 youths get jobs and into permanent housing.
Lost-n-Found was the recipient of the 2014 Dan Bradley Humanitarian Award at the 27th Annual HRC Atlanta Gala Dinner and Auction. Westbrook, now Executive Director of Lost-N-Found, accepted the award.
While last year’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage was a significant win for LGBT equality, there are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth fighting the backlash. “Supreme Court decision led young people to believe it was safe for them to come out to their parents,” Westbrook said. “Instead, parents promptly threw their kids out of their homes, leaving teens and young adults to have to fend for themselves. Since the SCTOUS decision we’ve quadrupled from 75 kids in the drop-in center to over 300. The challenge in Georgia is we’re still the Bible Belt.”
In addition to the difficulties of being homeless and LGBT, more than half of states do not make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in employment, housing and other fundamental areas. This year in Georgia, House Bill 757, an anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill was revived and passed the General Assembly. The bill included language that would have made it legal for faith-based homeless shelters and aid programs to turn away LGBT youth. HB 757 was ultimately vetoed by Governor Deal who felt the heat from a long list of LGBT-friendly corporations.
As for Lost-n-Found, the organization has launched a capital campaign to triple their transitional housing capacity from the existing six-bed facility. To donate to our capital campaign, please go to Donate Now for more information.
The 29th Annual Atlanta HRC Gala Dinner and Auction’s theme of “Beyond Marriage, All Rights for All People” recognizes there is still work to be done beyond the issue of same-sex marriage to ensuring equal rights and an end to state legislation that adversely affects LGBT youth.