[Ed. Note — The following commentary was originally written by Francisco White, the Empowering Positive Youth peer navigator at the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network, for his blog following his appearance on an Oct. 28 WFAE “Charlotte Talks” segment discussing homelessness. In the piece below, he discusses his reactions to some of that on-air radio discussion. You can listen to the full hour-long discussion online at wfae.org/post/affordable-housing-lgbtq-homeless-youth. LGBTQ youth homelessness is discussed in the second half-hour.]
Since contributing to the “Charlotte Talks” discussion on local LGBTQ youth homelessness and HIV/AIDS, as part of the larger conversation on affordable housing, several people have commented on my challenge to local organizations serving the homeless to begin tracking LGBTQ youth. It was not only what needed to be said in that moment, at the end of a show that allowed Fulton Meachem, Jr. (CEO of Charlotte Housing Authority) and Deronda Metz (director of social services at Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte) 30 minutes to pat themselves on the back for simply having organizations in place. It was the precursor to a more frank conversation I’m now having with leaders in the community, off air but on record. You should know that if I’ve spoken with you about this issue. You’re held accountable to exactly what comes out of your mouth and perhaps even to what doesn’t.
You may recall Meachem and Metz, in their full half hour of self-aggrandizing and apologetics, not even once mentioning the LGBTQ community, youth homelessness (LGBTQ or otherwise) or housing for people living with HIV/AIDS. It didn’t come out of their mouths. They did not engage me or the housing case manager from Time Out Youth because we weren’t even allowed on air at the same time (which was absolutely in their best interests). So much for WFAE supporting a real discussion of who’s homeless or unstably housed in Charlotte, why they’re in need and whose needs are not being met adequately.
We can’t talk about the local housing crisis without talking about marginalized groups, namely black, LGBTQ and HIV positive people. We can’t talk about the LGBTQ youth homelessness or HIV/AIDS crises, locally or nationally, without talking about black gay and trans lives being more affected. And those of us in the HIV field know too well that housing determines health outcomes. Furthermore, we can’t talk about black gay and trans lives without criticizing an “equality” movement that is not inclusive of them or the matters of life and death affecting them. LGBTQ youth homelessness and HIV are correlated crises existing at the intersection of race and class, an intersection avoided by the HRC as much as LGBTQ issues are avoided by the church and a local social services system with conservative church based sensibilities. I won’t digress.
So who cares about a homeless, black, gay/queer/trans, HIV positive youth from a background of poverty? When I ask that question, I’m asking about a sentiment as much as I’m asking about an action. And to be clear, that question is posed to LGBTQ community leaders as well. Who cares in their heart and who is actively caring? My interview series for qnotes, “Young, Queer and Homeless in the Queen City,” is my attempt to answer that question by allowing LGBTQ young people who are navigating the local shelter system and housing programs to share their experiences. Speaking from my own experience working closely with the shelter system and housing programs to serve HIV positive youth, many of whom are LGBTQ and homeless, local organizations don’t care enough. The women’s shelter run by Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte does not serve trans women. The Men’s Shelter of Charlotte requires disclosure of HIV status for medication distribution and does not ensure protection for gay or trans clients. It should come as no surprise that gay and trans shelter residents have complained of sexual harassment and assault. This has been the way of things in Charlotte for homeless LGBTQ people, many of whom are youth, for as long as these organizations have been in place.
These are the truths of the matter than have not been said on air or in print. By not talking about local LGBTQ youth homelessness truthfully, by not naming the names, we’re continuing with non-profit politics as usual and not actually challenging the system to rise to meet the demands of this crisis. It is a crisis of social wellness and of public health. It is disparity. And the refusal of local leaders to speak plainly and fully about it is intentional marginalization. Caring about the issue and the human lives involved requires taking responsibility, willingness to name the names and hold those named accountable, calling a thing what it clearly is, and beginning to really form community partnerships to resolve the issue. Knowing what it requires, who cares? : :