Invariably around the holidays, we all become wrapped up in the manifest joy of the season.
Beginning Thanksgiving Day, the spirit of family, the spirit of joy, the spirit of giving become the primary expressions of our gratitude for the abundance of the past year in the richest country in the world.
It’s also a time of singing, laughter, and reminiscence along with our favorite holiday tunes. Many TV shows animate the season: A Charlie Brown Christmas or A Christmas Story. Finally, there is the exchange of gifts, most profound connection with those whom we love and care for, whatever those who lament the commercialism of the holidays may say.
They protest too much: These are the staples of the common faith we share in the importance of fellow human feeling and the indelible acts of kindness and friendship. They allow us to overcome life’s often hard and uncaring ways.
However, something else tears against the spirit of the holidays, and it is happening all across America: More than 1.7 million youth are homeless.
For a variety of reasons, from family problems to emancipation from foster care, many of these young people have no place to go.
Often, they stay on the streets, at a friend’s or relative’s house or eventually find their way to one of many crisis shelters — the kind that the Florida Network is responsible for representing across the state’s 67 counties.
It goes without saying that this is our national tragedy.
Yet there’s a subgroup within that population of homeless youth receiving the least attention — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth (LGBT). Between 9 percent and 45 percent of the homeless youth population are LGBT youth.
It has been difficult to accurately assess the number of such youth because of their fears of law-enforcement and social-service workers. Moreover, those 354 organizations that have reported to the LGBT Homeless Youth Provider Survey state that almost 40 percent of their total populations are LGBT youth.
This, according to the Center for American Progress’s landmark report on LGBT youth homelessness, is most surprising, because out of the total U.S. population of youth, only 5 percent to 7 percent are LGBT.
That LGBT youth are overrepresented given their numbers in the overall U.S. population in crisis shelters is an indication of the long road to equitable treatment that we must walk in order to bring them from a situation of total hopelessness to a life without indignity, a life without fear, a life of limitless opportunity and possibility.
All the surveys give a sense of the conditions LGBT youth face, of why LGBT youth are leaving home: 25 percent to 40 percent leave home because of family conflict and 46 percent because their families refuse to accept their sexual orientation.
The result: More are likely to engage in drug use, enter into the black market, steal and engage in “survival sex” on the streets.
What is more, they suffer from a concomitant condition of mental distress, which leads to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even more tragic, between 25 percent to 50 percent of LGBT youth will attempt suicide.
Nationally, more is being done to recognize this profound crisis. Still, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act of 2013, regrettably, languishes in Congress.
Still, there’s always hope — however, faint it seems. As you enjoy your holiday among family and friends, count your blessings.
Try to remember those less fortunate and more in need of them, who may or may not, find solace this Christmas year.
Stacy Gromatski is president/CEO of the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services.