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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Compassion can Prevent the “Forsaking” of LGBT Youth

11/3/14 01:50 PM | Tom Bardwell | Trauma, Social Justice, Youth

September’s Rolling Stone magazine highlighted the growing problem of LGBT Youth Homelessness in the U.S. The Center for American Progress estimates that between 320,000 and 400,000 LGBT youth experience homelessness at some point each year in this country; overall they comprise about 20 percent of the overall homeless youth population.

The Rolling Stone feature discusses the views of highly religious families whose beliefs oppose homosexuality. Many of these young people end up on the streets after denial of familial support and painful rejection.

This article highlights the critical role of family acceptance as a protective factor for LGBT youth. The literature connecting protective factors with positive outcomes for youth who self-identify is sparse. However, significant anecdotal evidence from the field, including my own experience as a service provider for LGBT youth, confirms that when LGBT youth are accepted by their families, they are much more likely to believe that they can have a good life and grow up to be happy, productive adults.

Unfortunately, many families reject their adolescent and young adult children who break free of heteronormative gender and sexuality roles. Family rejection of LGB attraction and/or Transgender identity is experienced as a rejection of the whole person. Thus, for a significant portion of LGBT youth, family becomes a distant memory.

I hope that we begin to expand the reach of education and training on LGBT youth homelessness. We need to work with families as part of our early intervention and prevention efforts. This requires culturally compassionate best practices aimed at helping families understand how to accept, how to support, and how to love their children.


Image by Molly Richard

Tom Bardwell

Written by Tom Bardwell

Tom is a Senior Analyst at the Center for Social Innovation and a t3 faculty member. He is a public health professional specializing in training and technical assistance on harm reduction. He is also one of the founding artists of Boston LGBTQIA Artist Alliance, a nonprofit that builds community through exhibition opportunities. Tom received his B.A. from Hiram College and his Masters in Theatre Education from Emerson College.