Kate Barnhart is the Executive Director of New Alternatives, a drop-in service organization for homeless LGBT youth and a NY Writers Coalition workshop partner. On National Coming Out Day, Kate discusses the impact of a strong community on the individual’s coming out experience.
When I brought my college girlfriend home for the holidays, nobody in my family was surprised. I had joined the AIDS activist group ACT UP at age fifteen, kept my high school peers supplied with condoms, and was the safe sex queen on my college campus. Aside from commenting that she wished I’d marry a plumber, my mother was calm and welcoming.
For many LGBT youth, coming out is not so easy. Here at New Alternatives, a program providing drop-in services for homeless LGBT youth, we hear the stories all time – coming out is followed by rejection, loss, homelessness, and even violence.
Take V. for example. He came to New York City from rural Florida to attend the School of Visual Arts, and wound up deciding to transition from female to male. When he came out to his family back home, they cut him off, withdrawing the support that made it possible for him to go to school, so that he was forced to drop out. Since V. lived in student housing at the time, dropping out made him homeless.
When V. arrived at New Alternatives, he was severely depressed and convinced that he would never continue his education. We helped V. get into an LGBT shelter so that he would have a safe place to stay, and through months of counseling, convinced him that he could go back to school and have the future he dreamed of. We worked with him to edit his application essay and document his independent status for financial aid, and V. is now is his final year at Hampshire College, scheduled to graduate in May.
V.’s story has a happy ending, but many young people face ongoing challenges after coming out. Homeless LGBT youth are at increased risk of a wide range of negative outcomes including suicide, HIV infection, mental illness, physical violence, addiction, and becoming involved in sex work.
It is essential that members of the LGBT community – and our allies – intervene to prevent these negative outcomes from becoming a reality for our young people. With the government unwilling to commit enough resources to provide the beds and services that New York City’s homeless youth urgently need, it is up to us as a community to make up the difference.
At New Alternatives, volunteers do everything from maintaining our website to preparing hot meals. Volunteers tutor the youth and help them with resumes. Donors provide clothing and toiletries and purchase textbooks for our homeless students. Whether you donate money or clothing or volunteer your time – however you choose to make a difference – New York City’s homeless LGBT youth are depending on you.
Next up on The Narrator: ‘My coming out story was a combination of the benign and the joyous.’