Written by Emma Shoemaker and Edward O'Brien
As another successful Boston Pride Week comes to a close, it’s a great time to reflect on the state of LGBT rights in Cambridge. Cambridge, the first municipality in the United States to legalize gay marriage in 2004, has frequently been at the forefront of the LGBT rights movement. Now that same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for over a decade and a Supreme Court decision on marriage equality nationwide is due at the end of the month, it is easy to assume that the fight is over, that we’ve won.
While things are better, many LGBT issues outside of marriage equality are still very much unresolved. Much less known to the gay-marriage-driven middle class, LGBT homelessness is an epidemic in our country. Reports suggest that up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. Many teens have trouble coming out to their families, or are kicked out by their parents. This helps explain why LGBT teens are so overrepresented in the homeless community. It is also a problem that can be hard to deal with. Furthermore, those youths are 62% more likely to commit suicide than any of their peer groups. It is imperative, therefore, that homeless shelters be LGBT-friendly.
Often “runaways” or “throwaways,” these young adults frequently endure the the worst of discrimination against the LGBT community. Consequently, shelters that lack the sensitivity can often feel inhospitable and oppressive. For example, many well-meaning workers in shelters will call transgender youth only by their legal name, which may not match their gender identity. As a result of feeling disrespected or unsafe, many leave the shelters and come only for food or a night’s sleep. It is already difficult for homeless teens to find resources and shelters. It becomes even more difficult when teens have to find LGBT friendly shelters.
The First Parish Church of Cambridge understands this issue and is working to combat it. They have announced that they will pair with Y2Y to host a student-run homeless shelter, which will double the number of spaces available for homeless youth in Boston. With 21,000 homeless people in Massachusetts, the shelter will come as a welcome relief.
The First Parish Church, Y2Y and Youth on Fire will work to make this shelter as accepting and warm as possible, with specific training concerning gender identity and creating safe spaces. They demonstrate an important principle: as things get better, it is important to remember those who are not in the room with us and to create space for them. We must advocate for those who have different struggles from our own, especially when they do not have the same resources to be heard as we do. The First Parish Church is taking an important step in making Cambridge a more inclusive and better place to live, and it is up to the rest of us to learn from their message.