LGBT youth need more support

March 29, 2010

RECENTLY, THE mainstream media has been following the plight of two LGBT youth engaged in the struggle to take their same sex significant other to the senior prom, Constance McMillen in Mississippi and Derrick Martin in Georgia.

The stories have focused on the sensationalism of adolescents bringing same-sex partners to what is a historically heterosexist event. Yet the media have chosen not to focus on the variation in responses in these stories, both on behalf of parents and schools.

Constance has the support of her parents, yet the school chose to cancel prom rather than allow her to bring a female as her date.

Derrick's school district agreed to allow him to bring a male date to prom, though not out of any sense of equality or tolerance, but out of fear of being sued. Several days after Derrick's victory, his parents kicked him out of the house; he is now homeless.

LGBT youth like Constance and Derrick face extraordinary difficulties when they come out to parents and friends. Gay bullying and harassment are only two of the well-documented problems these youth suffer. They also face reduced social and cultural capital, two factors extremely important in terms of successful educational and work outcomes and transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Kicking LGBT youth out of their homes subjects them to increased risks of drug use, criminal behavior and unsafe sexual activity, not to mention ruining or delaying educational and employment opportunities. Other LGBT children not expressly kicked out turn to the streets as a relief from the hostile home environment created by ignorant parents.

Parents have legal and moral obligations to provide food, shelter and schooling for their children. The family should be a source of comfort, protection, stability and structure. When one parent splits with the family through divorce, he or she can be legally required to pay child support to further these aims until the child reaches 18. So why do LGBT youth kicked out of their homes by their parents not enjoy similar access to legally mandated financial support?

In the past year, LGBT activists have called for acts of civil disobedience as the next step in the struggle for equality; witness the brave Lt. Dan Choi, who recently handcuffed himself to the White House to protest the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Lt. Choi said his action was a response to President Obama's call for the LGBT community to keep the pressure on him.

MANY IN the community are tiring of "Change we can believe in" having become "Change we have to wait for." By making the struggle visible through civil disobedience, Lt. Choi is doing his part. The rest of the community now has to step up.

One way to do that is through fighting for the financial support our youth deserve from their parents. LGBT adolescents need the protection of the community in order to enjoy the same opportunities and privileges as their heterosexual peers. Imagine being kicked out of your home at the very time you are supposed to be applying to colleges and preparing to build a future, not to mention enjoying your senior prom.

Many in our community have experienced the isolation that Derrick is going through now. The time has come for our larger communities to recognize the unique vulnerabilities of LGBT youth and to make parents legally and financially responsible for their heinous neglect.

Family courts should provide an accessible venue in which adolescents exiled from their family can fight for their rights and secure legally mandated financial support from the parents who have turned their backs on them. Lawyers in the LGBT community can volunteer their services and time to help adolescents in crisis navigate the complexities of the legal system.

Making the struggle economic and visible has a transformative potential for achieving real equality while also helping adolescents in crisis.

Finally we must continually pressure the mainstream media to cover not just the sensational aspects of stories where our community is involved, but to present the real world consequences and implications.
Bradley Powell, New York

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