It's Pride Month! Summer is a time to celebrate our progress and celebrate each other. Some of us spend a lot of time up to our chins in the fight for equality and it's good to take a step back now and then and appreciate the progress that's been made. At the same time, it's a chance to make a goal for the coming year to help free even more people from oppression and abuse so they can join in the next celebration.
As many of you know, I have a book out titled Saving Liam. It's been called "powerful", "emotionally charged", and even "gritty". That's because the story behind it is just as powerful, emotionally charged, and gritty.
The statistics about homeless LGBT kids have been well publicized during the past year as the issue was dragged blinking and squinting into the spotlight. It's long overdue but then so are a lot of things in our battle for equality. However, this isn't a blog about homelessness. It's about the details under those numbers.
What happens to kids left to wander alone in the world without even basic food or shelter? If you're imagining a homeless bum on a corner, begging for change then you have a little less than half the picture. Let me fill in some more.
If you're at all familiar with the term "human trafficking", you know it's a homogenized phrase representing a hellish reality. The press uses that term to talk about slavery without people realizing that's what they mean. If you thought slavery ended in the U.S. with the Emancipation Proclamation you're in for a shock. Here is how the sex trade side of it looked in 2013:
- As many as 300,000 children are currently being used as sexual slaves in the U.S.*
- 33 percent of homeless kids will be lured into sexual slavery within the first 48 hours on the street.*
- LGBT kids make up roughly 40 percent of the population of homeless minors. If you carry that percentage over to the population of exploited kids that's 120,000 of them. Keep in mind, these numbers exist outside the headcount of kids on the street because technically they're no longer homeless. Ultimately, that means the situation with homeless LGBT kids could be worse than we think.
- LGBTs are up to 40 percent more likely to end up a sexual slave which means 120,000 is probably a bit low.**
- Less than 1/2 percent of child slaves will be rescued or escape their captors.**
- Less than 10 percent of U.S. police stations are equipped to investigate slavery.*
Those are not pleasant numbers, folks. Saving Liam is just a book and the character is a fictional creation but his life isn't. It's very real for a lot of kids whose only crimes are being born different and having parents who failed them when it counted most. Some of them are forced into prostitution, some into pornography, some into private brothels.
While this is a grim picture, it's not hopeless and that's the piece we need to hold onto. As long as we don't stop with trading statistics and telling stories, we can end this horror. It's not enough to be an ally. You have to be an advocate otherwise nothing changes and more kids like Liam will end up forced into situations they can't escape.
What can we do? The same thing we've been doing but bigger! We need to build up the resources for LGBT kids. If the first place they go when they're in trouble is an LGBT center or national hotline the predators won't have a chance to get their hands on them. Pick a bullet point and make a commitment to follow through and change someone's story this year.
- Find out what LGBT youth shelters exist in your city and support them! Charities don't run on lip service. They run on volunteer labor and donations. Find out what supplies they need and donate or start a local drive to collect things. The less they spend on necessities for the kids the more they can spend on outreach. In some cases, you can even have donated items delivered through the Amazon Smile program.
- If your community doesn't have an LGBT youth shelter then start making some noise! Gather online and local support and look into starting one. A majority of LGBT organizations started that same way.
- If that's too ambitious then support the national hotlines. There are three of them built specifically for kids: National Runaway Safeline, The Trevor Project, and The Boys Town Hotline. All of them do great work and help a lot of kids regardless of their sexual orientation but their voices aren't strong enough yet. There are still LGBT kids out there who have no idea they exist and if the kids don't know about them, they can't help.
- If you don't live in the U.S., contact an LGBT organization near you and get involved even if it's not with kids.
This is your chance to help save someone like Liam.