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July 18, 2013 9:54 am

Fighting For Our Next Generation at the Massachusetts State House

Tuesday was a momentous day for unaccompanied homeless LGBTQ and HIV positive youth in Massachusetts. As I finagled my way to a corner of an over-crowded and sweltering room located in the basement of the State House, where over 50 people waited to offer testimony for one of the 15 bills listed, I was pleased to see many familiar faces. 

Youth workers from Youth on Fire and Boston GLASS waited patiently in the back of the hearing room fanning themselves in an attempt to deal with the almost unbearable heat. Current and formerly homeless LGBTQ youth I’ve worked with at BAGLY or spoken with during my many trips to Boston GLASS slowly began to creep their way through the masses. 

We were all there for the same reason – to show our support for “An Act Providing Housing and Supportive Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth.” 

“An Act Providing Housing and Supportive Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth” is a key step to improving housing and residential stability, reducing the risk of harm and improving educational, physical and mental health outcomes for unaccompanied homeless youth. 

With recent reports suggesting that up to 40% of unaccompanied homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBT, this bill will particularly benefit unaccompanied homeless LGBTQ youth in Massachusetts. 

The lack of youth-specific resources in Massachusetts is alarming. As one youth testified, “there is only 1 shower for 16 guests” at Bridge Over Troubled Waters – one of the few youth specific shelters in Massachusetts. 

Youth, particularly LGBTQ youth, avoid adult shelters due to fear of violence, harassment, and lack competency on LGBTQ issues. As a result, youth opt to sleep on the street and resort to survival crimes, exposing them to increased violence, incarceration, and HIV transmission.

Homelessness has also been linked to school drop-out rates. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates that nearly 6,000 high school students are experiencing homelessness and are out on their own.

The need for greater resources for LGBTQ youth in the out-of-home care setting as well as stronger anti-bullying laws for LGBTQ students are two of the many priorities for GLAD’s Youth Initiative Project.

On May 30, Senior Staff Attorney and leader of GLAD’s Youth Initiative, Vickie Henry, testified in support of “An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools.” The proposed legislation would make much needed improvements to the state’s anti-bullying law by adding important provisions for enumerating protected classes - including LGBTQ students; for tracking and reporting bullying behavior; and for conducting a student school climate survey. 

Bullying harms academic performance and, sometimes, leads to the ending of a young life. Through GLAD’s extensive outreach in the LGBTQ and HIV positive youth community, we have heard the stories of numerous students who report being bullied because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression.

GLAD joins in supporting the passage of “An Act Providing Housing and Support Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth” and “An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools.”  Both bills will greatly improve the everyday lives our next generation.

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