Activists and allies dug into the tricky issue of LGBTQ youth homelessness in Chicago in a panel discussion at the Unitarian Church of Evanston as a part of the church’s Rainbow Alliance initiative – one of the congregation’s four social justice programs.
Organizer and Rainbow Alliance member Christine Allender said that with the passage of marriage equality in Illinois behind them, allies can now turn their attention to other pressing issues affecting the community, including youth homelessness.
“There was a lot of buzz around this particular issue,” she said. “[We] just wanted to make sure we brought that conversation up here and folded people from the North Shore into that conversation.”
According to advocacy group Fourty to None, between 500,000 and 1.6. million youth are homeless each year. They say that up to 40 percent of these young people identify as gay or transgender.
The panel featured Tracy Baim, publisher and executive editor at Windy City Media Group; Ally Baker, associate pastor at the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ; Bonsai Bermudez, executive and artistic director of the Youth Empowerment Performance Project (YEPP); Ahniyah Johnson, ensemble member of YEPP; Aiden McCormack, coordinator for the Night Ministry; and Zanariah (Zizi) Phillips, ensemble member of YEPP.
Panelists stressed the importance of providing both tangible and intangible support to homeless youth. Along with beds and employment resources, panelists agreed that tackling the issue will involve combating homophobia among parents, social service institutions and the church, as well as addressing the emotional needs of youth coming of age without a home.
“Hopefully people can leave the room thinking how they can support…these young people to move to the next level in life,” Bermudez said.