Pocan, Moore introduce bill to support LGBT homeless youth

WiG

U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan this week introduced legislation to protect and support LGBT runaway and homeless youth.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, last reauthorized in 2008 as the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act, is up for reauthorization this year.

However, the proposed legislation omits language relating to LGBT youth.

So Pocan, an openly gay congressman from Madison, and Moore, an advocate of LGBT equality from Milwaukee, have introduced the Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act to help ensure that LGBT youth are not discriminated against and that grant recipients have the cultural competency to effectively serve these youth.

RHYIA also would provide family support services for those struggling with the sexual orientation or gender identity of youth in their families.

Moore, in a news release, said, “I ran away from home when I was an adolescent. It was the first and last time. Living on the streets is a difficult and dangerous experience – one that no child should have to endure. Unfortunately, homelessness is the reality for hundreds of thousands of youth each year.”

She cited studies that show LGBT youth account for up to 40 percent of all homeless youth.

“LGBT homelessness is an issue that negatively impacts our children, our families and our communities,” Moore said. “Omitting these young people from the RHYA sends a powerful message to this population: that addressing their trauma and fear is not a priority. The LGBT youth homelessness experience cannot be ignored.”

Pocan, in the release, stated, “Homelessness is one of the most pressing matters affecting LGBT youth. Young people in the LGBT community are disproportionately at-risk for homelessness, often as a result of the rejection, discrimination, or violence they face simply for being themselves.”

He said there’s a “moral responsibility to ensure that all of our youth, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, have access to life-saving services and safe, welcoming places to stay.”

Passing an inclusive Runaway and Homeless Youth Act would “begin to address this tragic problem and provide needed support to all of our young people in times of need,” Pocan added.

The lawmakers worked with a number of advocates on the issue, including at the True Colors Fund co-founded by Cyndi Lauper. The entertainer-activist said this week, “No young person should ever be homeless let alone because they are gay or transgender, but when they are, we need to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect when they seek help. I applaud Reps. Moore and Pocan for championing the Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act. Every young person, no matter who they are, deserves an even break and should never be turned away. If we want a strong future, we need to invest in all of our youth.”

Moore and Pocan had praise and thanks for the youth advocates at True Colors, as well as at Pathfinders in Wisconsin and the National Network 4 Youth.

Earlier this year, Tim Clark, a member of the Pathfinders Milwaukee board of directors, testified at a congressional hearing on LGBT homeless youth.

Clark recently went to Washington, D.C., with three youths to talk with lawmakers. He said they told lawmakers “about the horrors of the streets they experienced, which took great strength and bravery because they had to relive their trauma with each visit.”