Survival story of one of the homeless LGBT kids. When you’re young, you tend to take a lot of things for granted, especially if you live in a so-called normal environment. You’d always assume there’s a roof over your head, you’d have something to eat and to wear, and you have your family’s love.
But what if you begin to recognize yourself as someone whose gender identity is different from what you were born with. And what if, along with your discovery of your gender identity, you find out that your family’s love is conditional upon the gender you identify as?
I found this out the hard way. When I was 16, I came out as a lesbian to my family. Within months, I transformed from cherished daughter to family shame. Then my parents couldn’t live with the shame anymore. So I became homeless, on my own, without a hope or a future.
Homelessness is a rude awakening for a once-sheltered child.
As a cherished and sheltered daughter, I was never really exposed to the harsh realities of the streets. All I really cared about then were keeping my grades up, hanging out with my friends, and outsmarting my brother to do my chores for me.
Losing the privilege of a home is hard for a sheltered child. At first, I tried staying at friends’ homes. Maybe I could survive by crashing on their couches, I thought back then. But you know what they say – you find out who your true friends are in moments of hardship. I was a popular girl in school, so I had many friends. Precious few of those friends offered help.
Then, the bullying started. I tried to stay in school even though I was only couch-surfing at the time. I didn’t know some of the kids thought I was stuck-up, and they thought my period of homelessness was a good time to pick on me. It started with pranks. Then it got more physical. A girl even slapped me hard on the face and claimed later that I was making a move on her.
And then, the unimaginable happened. A boy I looked up to, my brother’s best friend, walked up to me one afternoon and offered me a place to sleep. I trusted him, so I said yes. It turned out I wouldn’t get any sleep that night. I was beaten and raped repeatedly. He told me it was for my own good. He loved me like I was his own sister, he said, so it was his way of disciplining the gay out of me.
It was the tipping point. When he let me go the following morning, I took all the money and belongings I had left and bought a bus ride west to Los Angeles.
Living on the streets together with other LGBT Kids
I thought my situation would get better once I get to Los Angeles. I heard that LA is more accepting of LGBT kids like me. The plan was I’d get a job, find a place to stay, and continue studying.
It didn’t work out the way I planned it. I barely started high school, so I couldn’t get a job. Without a job, I couldn’t afford to eat regularly, let alone find a place to stay. I tried hitting the local shelters. If I got lucky, I had a bed for the night. But with so few beds available and, surprisingly, so few shelters welcoming of LGBT kids, most nights I wasn’t lucky.
Eventually, I stuck with a few other homeless LGBT kids. There’s strength in numbers, after all, and we tried to help each other out the best way we can. From them, I learned where the best places to sleep when there aren’t any available beds at the shelter. From them, I learned how to use crystal meth so I could stay awake at night and keep from feeling hungry.
But you can’t always rely on friends to help you out. On the streets, you have to take care of yourself. Street kids like me have painfully few options to survive. I turned to what they called “survival sex,” which meant agreeing to have sex with strangers in return for food or a place to stay at night. It was horrifying. When I was still a sheltered princess, I had always imagined sex to be an act of love between two people who loved each other. But when you’re hungry and fighting for your life, sex is just something you do to stay alive.
There are those times, though, when you’d feel tired of trying to fight, of trying to stay alive. Sometimes I just want to end it all. I was hungry, exhausted, and drowning in hopelessness. I tried taking my own life more than once. But the will to live was just too strong to die.
When luck turned my way, I never looked back.
One day, a guy approached me. He said he could take me somewhere I could have a warm meal, a bed to sleep in for the night, a shower, and maybe a change of clothes. I was suspicious and a little scared, but the thought of having decent food to eat was too hard to resist. So, fearing for the worst, I went with him.
As it turned out, that place was a center that specializes in sheltering LGBT kids and helping them transition to a better life. For the first time since I ran away to LA, I felt safe and truly accepted. The shelter did more than just feed me and give me a place to sleep. They gave me a check-up to see if I was sick or got infected with HIV. They put me in a program that helped me get my high school diploma. Eventually, they helped me find a job.
I’m 21 years old now. I’m saving up to go to college. I have a full-time job. It isn’t much, but at least it lets me earn enough to stay off the streets. On my days off, I help out at the shelter that helped me.
Recently, my brother got in touch with me, asking me how I was, asking me for my forgiveness for not fighting for me. He didn’t know what his best friend did to me until much, much later. Sure, I forgave him. I’ve even forgiven my parents, although they’ve never asked for it. They don’t acknowledge me as their daughter anymore. And for me, that’s just fine. You choose the family you have.
I know I’m one of the lucky few. Did you know that 40% of homeless kids out there are LGBT who ran away or got kicked out of their homes? Did you know that LGBT kids on the streets are more vulnerable to victimization than heterosexual kids? It’s hard to live when you’re confused about your own sexuality and rejected by the very people who are supposed to love you.
We are who we are. We didn’t ask to be born the way we are. Please don’t shun us. Just like any human being, we have the right to feel loved, nurtured, and protected too.