Pulling together first-person narratives from current and former homeless and kicked-out queer and trans* youth, Sassafras Lowrey’s (Ed.) Kicked Out (Homofactus Press, 2010) is an remarkable weaving-together of stories of hardship, struggle, resilience, and strength. It was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, in the Top 11 for 2011 Over the Rainbow Book List of the American Library Association and the Top 10 for the 2011 Rainbow Project List for the American Library Association.
The power of Kicked Out is that it is written by and for young people who have been pushed aside, kicked out, and left to fend for themselves much too early in their lives. So many times, young people who have been discarded are brought into systems that further take away their agency, making their voices smaller, quieter, harder to see, and harder to hear. Sassafras Lowrey—and the contributors to this collection—bring these young people’s voices, and with them, the voices of many others, out into the light.
The issue of youth homelessness has been raised here at State of Formation before, when Andrew Twiton wrote about his experience working with an interreligious organization in Minneapolis to raise money for an organization that provides services and housing to homeless young people, and advocacy that came out of that work for the Homeless Youth Act in Minnesota (“A Prayer for Homeless Youth,” April 25, 2013). There are some important things I want to add to this discussion on homeless youth. These numbers come from the National Recommended Best Practices for Serving LGBT Homeless Youth. (Lambda Legal collaborated with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Network for Youth, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2009.)
- Conservatively, 20 percent (1 in 5) of homeless youth are queer or trans*-identified, and as many as 40% of homeless youth are queer or trans*-identified. Comparatively, general estimates are that between four and ten percent of young people are queer or trans*-identified.
- Queer and trans* young people often become homeless “because of family abuse, neglect, or conflict over their identity” and many are kicked out of their homes, or run away from foster or group homes because of homophobic and/or transphobic harassment, mistreatment, or abuse. One estimate is that queer and trans* youth are twice as likely to be survivors of sexual abuse.
- Queer and trans* young people who are homeless face increased risk of physical and sexual assault.
- Trans*-identified young people face higher rates of targeted harassment, assault, and arrest by police because of their gender presentation.
- Suicidal tendencies among queer and trans* young people is exceedingly high (62% as compared to 29% for straight homeless youth).
It is dangerous to be a queer or trans*-identified young person. And young people know this when they come out. Perhaps the most important thing about Kicked Out is that it doesn’t shy away from the danger, but it doesn’t get lost in it, either. The contributors write spirited and fierce selections that chronicle the reality of their lives—from the struggles and hardships to the joys and the bright, shining moments that bring hope for a world that is different than the ones that they have endured. It is not possible to pull out the “best” of the pieces that make up Kicked Out; they are all unique, and in them I hear echoes of the stories I have heard every day as a case manager working specifically with trans*-identified youth and adults.
Kicked Out includes stories that are especially important for us as religious leaders if we take seriously the work of ending youth homelessness. There is Daniel, who accessed supportive services at The Attic Youth Center, a queer youth drop-in center in Philadelphia. His deeply religious (Christian) family staged an intervention, and gave him an ultimatum: he had to “be straight, or … go.” His brother threatened to beat him, and he was forced to leave home (“Sanctuary at the Attic,” p.55). Taylor was taught, in her home and at her church, that “same sex relationships were bad.” Though she was attracted to girls, she never “considered [herself] gay,” but at nine, when she found herself attracted to girls, her life at home became harder (“My Days of Judgment,” p. 97). Booth’s father believes that God wants him to rape and kill Booth. (“Tangled Hair,” 102). There are many ways in which religiosity functions as an additional homophobic or transphobic force in the lives of young queer and trans* people.
These stories are hard to stomach. They are raw, they are dangerous and sad. And they are full of strength, resolve, resilience, power, and even joy. The young people who have survived through these experiences have much to teach us, about community-building, about what young people need, and about how we as religious leaders might help to stem the tide of youth homelessness, especially homelessness among queer and trans*-identified young people.
 Trans* (with the asterisk) is used to denote the range of transgender, transsexual, and gender-variant identities that are possible.