Tag Archives: LGBT Youth

LGBTQ youth homelessness in South Florida


Experts agree that LGBTQ homeless youth in South Florida are invisible, which makes them a particularly vulnerable segment of the population. They aren’t standing on the side of the road with hand-painted signs, they rarely congregate among homeless adults, and they learn to stay off the streets during the day to avoid the authorities. Many simply spend most of their days securing a place to sleep in the evenings.

The Trials of Life

Suarez’ situation is not uncommon. National studies estimate that up to 40 percent of all people under age 24 experiencing homelessness in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ. Because this population is often undetectable, it has been difficult to count and to track the numbers in South Florida, making local statistics hard to come by.

According to a 2015 study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, family rejection is the most common reason providers cite for homelessness among queer youth. Some are forced out of their homes, while others run away from the humiliation and emotional or physical abuse. Substance abuse and domestic violence are the second most frequently cited causes, followed by aging out of the foster care system with no proper support network.

In South Florida, the high cost of living is a significant factor. “For an 18-year-old with a minimum wage job, it is impossible to afford to live in a one-bedroom or studio apartment without assistance,” says Mandi Hawke, director of youth services at SunServe, a social services agency for Broward’s LGBTQ community. “Many LGBTQ young people — and especially our trans youth — often struggle to find affirming employment.”

Once on the streets or housed in emergency shelters, queer youth face myriad obstacles that further threaten their chances of becoming independent. According to a 2016 report by True Colors Fund, a leading organization working to end LGBTQ youth homelessness, these young people struggle with harsher realities in the foster care, school and juvenile justice systems. They are also disproportionately affected by HIV, sexual assault, violence and inadequate access to behavioral and mental health resources, especially if they are of color or come from low-income backgrounds.

Michael Alexander-Luz is the co-coordinator of an LBT support group at Lotus House in Miami, a women’s shelter for all ages, including those with children. Too often he sees the long-term impacts of these struggles. “There [are] a lot of mental health diagnoses present; a lot of substance use history and suicidal ideation. Oftentimes, when they are not here, they are getting hormones off the black market that aren’t safe.”
A Dearth of Resources

In spite of the high rates of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, there are few shelters in South Florida specifically designed with them in mind. Miami Bridge Youth & Family Services provides shelter for children and teens through age 17, but there is no shelter in Miami-Dade specifically for individuals ages 18-24. In Broward, Fort Lauderdale’s Covenant House is the only emergency shelter for youth through age 20.

David Raymond, former executive director of Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, notes that local policies for addressing homelessness focus primarily on housing people who are chronically homeless first. But that’s part of the cycle, as he is quick to mention that the key to stopping someone from becoming chronically homeless is to get them out of homelessness within the first year. Even in the local adult shelter system, it can take weeks to find a bed, and there are no protections in place to keep young people from being targeted or discriminated when they attempt to access these services.

Many LGBTQ youth report having poor experiences in general population shelters, says Landon “LJ” Woolston, homeless youth programs and services manager at Pridelines. “Oftentimes, they don’t want to go back to shelters because they have been bullied by staff or other adult clients,” he says. “For trans and gender non-conforming youth, it is even harder, because they are more likely to encounter systemic violence in the shelter system and to be housed inappropriately based on the sex they were assigned at birth rather than their gender identity.”

An Oasis of Support

In partnership with other South Florida groups such as Aqua Foundation and The Alliance for GLBTQ Youth, Pridelines has helped over 150 young people in less than four years.

The 9,000-square-foot community center that opened in 2016 was built in part to expand services for this population. Free case management and advocacy, warm meals, snacks, showers, washer and dryer, and clothing and hygiene products are all available there. The organization also runs an array of programs for LGBTQ youth and adults, including HIV support groups, educational lectures, holistic therapies and a lending library.

This summer, the nonprofit celebrates 35 years of service improving lives through safety, guidance and unconditional acceptance.

Among them is La’Ruben Dixon, a 20-year-old gay student from a religious home, where homosexuality was considered sinful. At age 15, his mother kicked him out, so he spent the next several years on the streets, “couch-surfing” with friends or at emergency shelters, such as Camillus House.

“It’s stressful; it’s a hard adjustment. But it gave me motivation for wanting to improve my own life,” says Dixon, who is now studying dance at Santa Fe College in Gainesville.
Bright Prospects

It was only after a great deal of pain that Kassidy Suarez, too, obtained services when she received a referral to Lotus House. After she stabilized, she was offered a position there, too. When her mother became homeless, she was in a position to help, and with support and education, her mom began to accept her for who she is. They rebuilt their relationship and they now live together in permanent housing in Overtown.

Filled with gratitude, Suarez wants to share her story with vulnerable gay and transgender youth. “Stay focused, stay in school, just don’t let go of you,” she says. “There are so many speed bumps — and so many hurtful ones — but don’t let barriers bury you. A person can upgrade rather than self-deteriorate.”




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LGBT Teens Homeless in South Florida

LGBT-Homeless-Family-RejectionAs many of you know, finding solutions to the issue of homeless LGBT youth is a gnawing passion of mine. I am happy to say that slowly but surely these crucial issues are finding themselves to the media forefront. I was pleased to be one of the individuals interviewed for this article.

“School is just not even an issue if you’re trying to survive,” Mandi Hawke said. “You shouldn’t be concerned about who you are and being accepted and fitting in and bullying and being afraid.”

To read the article click below:




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Am I really an Author?

I am still afraid to call myself an author…why?

Since self-publishing my book last October I have slowly allowed my excitement and passion to fizzle. Because PROUD did not immediately and without massive effort take off, I silently called myself a failure. Because people questioned my target audience saying “you can’t be a best selling author ONLY targeting queer youth,” I believed them and stopped really trying. Why?

Watch this video – it struck a cord with me and had me in tears.  I’d love your thoughts, ideas and any solutions you’ve found that work. I know this my next area of personal growth.



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Mandi Hawke Raises Awareness for LGBT Youth with Her Life Story

Mandi Hawke was in the fifth grade writing “I love Stephen” in her notes, only to casually drop them off her desk for her classmates to find.

Mandi Hawke

He was the one person in the classroom that every girl liked,” she remembers. “I thought it was a safe name to write.” In a small private school classroom of about 24 kids, playground crushes grew and Hawke was suddenly accused of not dating anyone.

It wasn’t until her freshman year of high school that Hawke came out to her friends and family, only to be told it was a phase and a trend. But she didn’t know that then.

via Mandi Hawke Raises Awareness for LGBT Youth with Her Life Story.

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Thoughts about PROUD – Hil Says

“Incredible, awesome, in a class of it’s own! I would absolutely recommend PROUD as it offers all humans an opportunity to learn how to accept and love themselves and others. The author has written this book in a way that can benefit youth and adults and the worksheets are so helpful in aiding understanding.” She keeps each section short enough to keep the reader interested in all the wisdom and suggestions she offers. She doesn’t drone on about “methods”, “steps”,etc., as do so many authors of self-help books.”

~ Hil Laguna
PROUD parent of a gay son.
Therapist and
LGBTQA Youth Group Facilitator

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We all need commUNITY!

“In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.”
Marianne Williamson

As a follow-up to yesterday’s article Shame and the Dangers of SHOULD, I want to give some gratitude to the allies in our community. The power of a united commUNITY with a loving mission can truly transform the world.

The generally accepted statistic is that 10% of the population is LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). That is a very small percentage when it comes to shouting for equal rights. We need our straight allies who love, support and stand up WITH US! This recent election was a HUGE illustration of that. Marriage equality was won in 3 states, Maine, Maryland and Washington and Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. These were BOLD moves and it took more than 10% of people to vote this way; we couldn’t have done it without the support from our entire commUNITY!

There is a great shift in consciousness that is happening and it is SO EXCITING to be part of it! Last weekend I was privileged to work on a film project with youth from SunServe and Drag it OUT. The film crew that came out and donated their time, awesome equipment and passion to assist the creation of this project was a team of 5 amazing straight guys – WOW! The youth were so floored, they rarely get to witness such acceptance and celebration!

The film is a short PSA (Public Service Announcement) that speaks to LGBT youth who are struggling with their identity and have not yet connected to a commUNITY. The film begins with one youth all alone, walking down the street, she’s struggling a great deal and feels all alone, she begins to run, faster and faster – trying to get away from all her problems. Through creative editing we illustrate the internal chaos we all have sometimes. Inserting audio clips of disapproving politicians, religious leaders, even our own voice that says “you’re not good enough” or “you SHOULDN’T be this way.”  At the height of panic in this short clip the background begins to fill up in other young people, all sending love to the youth in crisis. The film ends with a friend that reaches out and touches the youth’s shoulder, letting her know – she’s not alone. Information is then shared about how to reach out and connect to resources in the community…. because we ALL need commUNITY in our lives.

Creating this PSA was way beyond exciting, it was downright exhilarating! Doing something that makes a difference for others feels great! I am excited to share the video below of the back scenes footage of the film – stay tuned for the FULL COMPLETED PSA!

How are YOU involved in your commUNITY?

To get connected check out GLBTNearme.org and search for a youth group near you. You can also also join an online LGBT youth community at TrevorSpace.

Click the link to check out the “Behind the Scenes” of the Drag it OUT and SunServe PSA Filming

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