WASHINGTON – Grammy and Emmy award-winning artist and advocate Cyndi Lauper today visited Capitol Hill to speak on behalf of homeless LGBT youth and advocate for programs that provide needed housing and support services.
Lauper’s visit comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality. Speaking of the President’s decision Lauper said, “President Obama's support of marriage equality gives hope and encouragement to the millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people who feel ostracized and alone. But our work is not done. We must continue to work on behalf gay and transgender Americans – and especially children – who have been driven from their homes, bullied, and abused.”
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, each year between 500,000 and 1.6 million youth in the U.S. are homeless or runaways. LGBT youth make up an estimated 3% to 5% of the general U.S. population, yet they account for 20% to 40% of the homeless youth population.
This startling disparity suggests that LGBT youth stand a much higher chance of becoming homeless because of abuse, neglect, and other family conflicts that drive them to the streets.
“For a long, long time, gay and transgender youth have been forced out of their homes because of family and societal rejection” Lauper said. “I am looking forward to visiting Capitol Hill today to enlist support that will help these kids be who they are and become healthy, happy and productive members of our society.”
Lauper’s visit to Capitol Hill includes a list of special sit-down meetings with key legislators (both Democrat and Republican), including meetings with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and John Kerry (D-MA).
“As a father and a grandfather, it makes me sick to think of any child living on the streets just for being who God created them to be. There are common sense reforms we can enact now to help make things better for LGBT youth, and activists like Cyndi are helping make that happen by lending energy and advocacy to protect these kids,” Kerry said.
According to Lauper’s True Colors Fund and its partners, the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are three ways in which Congress can help end youth homelessness:
1. Increase funding for youth homeless programs: The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) consists of three major types of programs for homeless youth: Street Outreach Programs, Basic Center Programs, and Transitional Living Programs.
2. Help parents accept their LGBT sons and daughters: Senator Kerry’s Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish a demonstration project for programs that improve family relationships and reduce homelessness for LGBT youth. A growing body of research from the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) at San Francisco State University suggests that a family-centered approach is one of the best ways to prevent LGBT youth from becoming homeless.
3. Add LGBT language to future RHYA reauthorizations: RHYA currently makes no mention of LGBT youth, despite their disproportionate numbers among the youth homeless population. Congress should explicitly incorporate LGBT youth into RHYA when the program is considered for reauthorization in 2013. This can be done in three ways: First, add a general statement of nondiscrimination for RHYA that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, prohibiting grant recipients from discriminating against LGBT youth. Second, require RHYA grant applicants to include LGBT youth in any planning documents that are currently needed to qualify for a grant. These requirements will help service providers think through the unique circumstances and needs of all their clients, including those who are LGBT. Third, Section 345 of RHYA requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, to submit to Congress a report on the “incidence and prevalence of youth homelessness” in the United States. Information about LGBT youth homelessness should be added to the list of data that Congress asks HHS to include in this report. Better data and information on the LGBT youth population will help policymakers, service providers, researchers, and advocates better understand how to best serve these individuals.
Lauper’s visit also comes one day after she was invited by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to celebrate the seventh annual National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day as Honorary Chairperson and Advocate Award recipient. To that end, Lauper joined the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and a coalition of more than 130 public and private organizations to celebrate SAMHSA’s “Heroes of Hope” program.