Change.org and others have reported. Why then did a new, national report on homeless youth from Covenant House, which says it is "the largest provider of services to homeless and at-risk youth in the Americas," ignore LGBT youth?
The Covenant House report, "A National Picture of Youth Homelessness," is based on information about more than a thousand youth who entered Covenant House facilities in various locations around the country between mid-2007 and mid-2009. The data was collected through lengthy psychosocial assessments that asked about "demographics, circumstances of admission, family history, current family and social supports, education and employment history, current income sources, health and mental health history, and legal issues." The demographics, included age, gender, and ethnicity.
Nowhere, however, does the report mention sexual orientation or gender identity or how they may interact with the other characteristics. In a document claiming that "Our ability to describe youth characteristics and experiences is the first step towards systematically identifying important trends and risk factors for homelessness as well as promising interventions," this seems a glaring omission.
Covenant House clearly serves LGBT youth. Covenant House California Associate Executive Director Sylvia LaMalfa told The Advocate last July that about 10 percent of the youth they serve are LGBT, and she noted that “a disproportionately high number of youth are driven from their homes because they’re LGBT.”
The Web site of the Covenant House in Vancouver, BC, even contains this heartfelt blog by a gay youth, who wrote, "I prayed every night to God to just get me through high school and give me strength to go on, so someday I could try to educate other people who were in my position. . . . Back then, there weren't many resources around. Now, let's take advantage of the resources that we have, so that we can prevent the feeling of despair that I experienced. I WANT YOU ALL TO KNOW.... YOU ARE NOT ALONE !"
And this past fall, 14 volunteers showed up at the Covenant House in Los Angeles specifically to help LGBT youth. They were motivated by an offer from Lady Gaga, who was giving away tickets for one of her concerts to volunteers willing to help LGBT youth for eight hours at various partner locations, including Covenant House.
But Covenant House has come under fire recently for its treatment of LGBT youth and the Covenant House in Houston has been questioned about its treatment of transgender youth in particular.
If the allegations are true, then the Covenant House report's omission of information about LGBT youth is no surprise. If the allegations are false, then there is all the more reason for resources produced by the overall organization to be inclusive of the "characteristics and experiences" of LGBT youth. Either way, Covenant House should correct its oversight.
And yes, the data on which the report is based starts back in 2007 -- but LGBT youth homelessness was a known issue even then, as this 2007 report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force makes clear.
Covenant House was founded by Franciscan priest Bruce Ritter, and is strongly but not formally connected with the Catholic Church. Its current President and CEO, Kevin Ryan, is the organization's first lay leader, following two nuns who served after Ritter stepped down amidst unproven allegations of sexual misconduct with three young men. Its mission includes a strong statement of faith, saying in part, "Just as Christ in His humanity is the visible sign of God's presence among His people, so our efforts together in the covenant community are a visible sign that effects the presence of God, working through the Holy Spirit among ourselves and our kids."
The Center for American Progress issued a brief on LGBT youth homelessness in August 2010, noting "Most gay and transgender youth face staff in shelters who either don’t how or refuse to accommodate their needs. This is especially true of many faith-based shelters that receive a substantial chunk of federal allocations to combat youth homelessness."
There is certainly no automatic antipathy between religion and LGBT rights, however, as I've written before. Many religious organizations are strong supporters of LGBT youth and LGBT rights. One of Covenant House's five basic principles, in fact, is "serving all of God’s children with absolute respect and unconditional love."
Omitting any mention of LGBT youth from their report, however, implies that such youth don't exist in the community of homeless young people, that their disproportionate representation in that community has no meaning, and that Covenant House is not prepared to address any special needs or concerns they might have. That, to me, is giving them less than "absolute respect."
petition text -
I am writing to ask that future research reports from Covenant House include information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth you serve.
Covenant House's recent report, "A National Picture of Youth Homelessness," does not include any information specifically about LGBT youth, despite claiming that "Our ability to describe youth characteristics and experiences is the first step towards systematically identifying important trends and risk factors for homelessness as well as promising interventions."
LGBT youth make up a disproportionately large percentage of our nation's homeless youth, as research from organizations such as the Center for American Progress and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have shown. Nowhere, however, does your report mention sexual orientation or gender identity or how they may interact with the other characteristics and experiences of these youth.
Covenant House serves many LGBT youth. Covenant House California Associate Executive Director Sylvia LaMalfa told The Advocate magazine last July that about 10 percent of the youth they serve are LGBT, and she noted that “a disproportionately high number of youth are driven from their homes because they’re LGBT.”
Covenant House will be better able to serve LGBT youth -- a significant portion of the homeless youth population -- if its future reports include information specifically about such youth.
[Your name here]