INVISIBLE: LGBT Youth Homelessness
In America, hundreds of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) young adults are homeless, sleeping in parks, in subways, in shelters, in stranger’s beds. Increasingly, LGBT young people are the emerging face of American youth homelessness: in New York City alone, by conservative estimates, there are 5,000 LGBT young adults on the streets every night. These young people – the vast majority of whom are of color – make up as much as 50% of New York City’s homeless youth population.
For the past 6 years, I have documented the stories of New York City’s homeless LGBT youth community, basing myself at 2 programs that serve these young adults: Sylvia’s Place, a Midtown emergency shelter, whose 11 beds are part of the mere 300 spaces available to the 5,000 homeless LGBT young people in the city, and New Alternatives for Homeless LGBT Youth, a case management clinic located in Greenwich Village. My photographs record the banality and brutality of everyday life in this community, describing a space of invisibility bounded by race, class, gender/gender non-conformity, sexual orientation and prejudice. Burdened by the effects of destabilizing social policies created a generation ago – the gutting of public education, the “welfare reform” initiatives of the 90′s, the rise of juvenile incarceration and foster care, and the increasing criminalization of America’s poor and of color – the young adults living in this intersectionality are further scarred by the fallout of abuse, broken families, and violent rejection from homes, churches and schools. Despite their best efforts to move away from homelessness, homophobia and transphobia at mainstream shelters and programs effectively bars access to the meager services available to homeless youth, forcing these young adults to make hard decisions – often with their bodies – in order to survive. Suffocating shadows of survival crime, sex work and HIV soon creep into the lives of these young people, as they are forced to fight, barter and compromise for everyday needs. Taken together, these obstacles keep these young adults in a position of extreme marginalization, rendering them unseen – in the media, in society and in social policy.
It is my hope that this continuing documentary project, INVISIBLE, will help to lift the shroud that surrounds these young adults, enabling all of us to be aware, not only of their daily struggles, but also of their resiliency, strength and hope for the future.