From Shame to Pride, Through Storytelling

Today's blog post was contributed by Nicolas Seip, program and communications associate with True Colors Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending homelessness among among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

America places a lot of value on a story. A good story can top the New York Times Best Seller List or rake in millions at the box office. A good story can change the world.

At the True Colors Fund, we hear a lot of stories – from young people who have experienced homelessness, from the service providers who work with them, and from supporters across the country who want to make a difference. To the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community, an important form of storytelling is “coming out.” Living authentically in one's affirmed sexual orientation or gender identity often means sharing that story time and time again. And it isn’t always easy.

Coming out as LGBTQ shouldn’t be a shameful thing. But, to many, it is. Experiencing homelessness shouldn’t be a shameful thing. But, to many, it is.

Up to 40 percent of youth experiencing homeless in the United States are LGBTQ, while just 7 percent of the general youth population is LGBTQ. The discrepancy is impossible to ignore. According to service providers, the majority of LGBTQ youth experience homelessness due to identity based family rejection. The True Colors Fund believes that no young person should be homeless, let alone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We work everyday to make that belief a reality.

To create such a world, we need to hear from the experts – the youth themselves. Doing so is mutually beneficial. True Colors Fund 2015 True Fellow Rivianna Hyatt put it like this, “The older I get, the more I recognize that there is no shame in growing up the way I did. In fact, it is essential to the person I have become.”

Shame breeds silence, but sharing can create pride. “It is an everyday struggle to be honest with myself about that,” Rivianna continued. “But I’m realizing that knowing myself is absolutely necessary in order to get to know the rest of the world.” Celebrating who you are and recognizing where you come from are essential to, well, being happy.

But, like Rivianna says, it’s a struggle. I think there can be a lot of pressure on young people to tell their story of homelessness. I know it isn’t easy to talk about. So, instead, I say, “You’re in complete control.” So share what you want. If you want to share your story, I’ll listen with all ears. But what I really want to hear are your ideas.

And hear their ideas, we have. Rivianna and her six fellow Fellows are working across the country on projects to promote LGBTQ inclusion in their communities. And through the LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Prevention Initiative, we’re cultivating successful practices from people working on the ground.

Together with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, we’re working to develop and evaluate strategies to prevent LGBTQ youth from becoming homeless and intervene as early as possible once they do become homeless. The initiative is being conducted over the next two years in Harris County, Tex. and Hamilton County, Ohio, and, once completed, the resources and tools developed can be replicated and implemented in communities across the country.

June is LGBTQ Pride Month, a time during which communities join to celebrate the freedom and joy that come with living authentically. To my fellow allies, I encourage you not only to celebrate your LGBTQ loved ones, but hear out their hopes, dreams, and ideas for the future. To LGBTQ folks, I urge you to make us listen. Shame breeds silence, but sharing creates pride. Let’s celebrate Pride Month sharing.