Opinion

Op-ed: Youth on the street, Berkeley anti-homeless laws, and the Supreme Court

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court announced that LGBT couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. Households all over the nation either celebrated, stiffened, or wondered what it meant to their community and to history.

In the Bay Area, the Gay Pride celebrations have been an historical way to honor the nation’s deepening acceptance of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) community members. That acceptance is strengthening at a pace once considered impossible. And across the nation in small communities without an organized LGBT presence, LGBT people, as well as questioning individuals in hostile workplaces and family settings, can enjoy a small but powerful moment of support which might help save their lives.

The prejudice against LGBT individuals in deeply conservative states can be life-threatening. It is no accident that approximately 40% of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBT (1), a number considered an undercount because of the continued existence in some regions and cities of severe stigma attached to being gay.

Some young people, when they find and embrace their sexuality, find themselves rejected by their families, religious connections, workplaces, and communities. A disproportionate number end up on the streets. Nearly 70% of young people say that physical and sexual abuse as a child, neglect, and other violent crimes happening in their homes played a role in having become homeless.(2)

It is worth keeping this fact in mind when one hears the hostility toward poor, homeless, and traveling people fashionable in political and business circles.

Berkeley, with a City Council proud to have three openly gay council representatives, has an opportunity to reject criminalization policies and recognize the dignity in all human beings and the deep connections between us all.

(1 )Williams Institute, 2012
(2) Safe Horizons, New York 2015

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Carol Denney is the Human Rights Editor for Street Spirit newspaper and a local Berkeley musician.