Showing posts with label Gay Kids. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Kids. Show all posts

February 24, 2019

Twins Born to A Gay Couple But The Government would Only Recognized One As US Citizen

Elad Dvash-Banks, left, and Andrew Dvash-Banks with their twin sons, Aiden, left, and Ethan in their apartment in Los Angeles last year.CreditCreditJae C. Hong/Associated Press

Aiden and Ethan Dvash-Banks are twin brothers who were born minutes apart.

But only one of them was considered to be a United States citizen by the State Department. A federal judge ruled this week that was a mistake.

The twins are the sons of two married gay men, an American citizen and an Israeli citizen. Aiden was conceived using sperm from his American father and Ethan was conceived using sperm from his Israeli father, court records show. A surrogate mother gave birth to the boys in Canada in 2016.

The family sued the State Department for denying Ethan citizenship, drawing attention to a department policy that says that a child born abroad must be biologically related to an American parent to become a citizen. Gay rights activists argued that the policy harms same-sex couples, who often use assisted reproductive technology to have children.

“Two kids who have almost identical life experiences and parenting,” said Aaron C. Morris, a lawyer for the family and the executive director of Immigration Equality, a legal advocacy group that worked on the case. “To treat them differently is absurd.” 

In a ruling on Thursday, Judge John F. Walter of Federal District Court for the Central District of California said that Ethan should be recognized as a citizen since birth. The judge ruled that federal law does not require a child born to married parents to prove a biological relationship with both parents.

The State Department said in a statement on Friday that it was reviewing the ruling, but did not respond to questions about what it would mean for the policy going forward.

The twins, now 2 years old, were born to Andrew Dvash-Banks, an American citizen, and Elad Dvash-Banks, an Israeli citizen. The couple met in Israel and married in Canada in 2010 before having their sons with the help of assisted reproductive technology, according to their lawsuit.

After the twins were born, their parents went to the United States Consulate in Toronto to certify the children’s American citizenship and get United States passports. But they were told that the twins had to take a DNA test to prove a genetic connection to Andrew, the lawsuit said.

Ethan was denied citizenship because Andrew was not his biological father, according to a copy of a letter from the State Department included in the lawsuit.  

“If we were a straight couple and I was an Israeli woman and both of our names were on both kids’ birth certificates, would you ever require us to perform a DNA test?” Elad said in a video about the case posted by the immigration advocacy group.

When the Dvash-Bankses decided to move to Los Angeles to be near Andrew’s family in 2017, same-sex marriage had been legalized and three of the four family members were eligible to live in the United States. But Ethan was allowed into the country only on a tourist visa, which expired that December, according to the lawsuit.

The couple sued the State Department the next month, with the help of Immigration Equality, the legal advocacy group, which works on behalf of L.G.B.T. immigrants and their families.

Mr. Morris, the group’s executive director, said that Ethan was living as an undocumented baby in California, which caused daily anxiety for the family and made it difficult for him to get to know his extended family in Israel.

“It took a very long time before he got to meet his grandparents,” Mr. Morris said. “When they did their taxes, they didn’t have a Social Security number for Ethan. Enrolling him in day care was complicated. This was an everyday frustration.”

In his ruling this week, Judge Walter called the State Department’s interpretation of the citizenship law “strained.”

But the ruling stopped short of striking down the State Department’s policy over all and does not necessarily apply to other families, according to Mr. Morris. Immigration Equality is fighting a similar case in Washington on behalf of a same-sex couple living in London.
The U.S.-Mexico border is a daily headline. A political football. And also home to millions of people. Every week for the next few months, we'll bring you their stories, far from the tug-of-war of Washington politics. 

Mr. Morris said he hoped the ruling would be “persuasive” to other courts and would perhaps compel the government to change its policy voluntarily.

“It is one more in a series of cases telling the State Department that they are getting the policy wrong,” he said.

For the Dvash-Bankses, at least, the ruling brought fast relief. Afterward, Elad and Andrew told their toddlers the news, as the boys chomped on bananas and smiled.

“Not knowing whether Ethan would be allowed to stay in the U.S. is something we went to bed with every night,” Andrew said in a statement issued by the advocacy group.

“Now,” he said, “our family is whole and safe.”

February 8, 2019

"Hey Mom As You Know Im Gay But Can I have My Friends for a Sleep Over?"

Jeff Freund banned sleepovers for his son, Trey, who is gay, after asking himself, “Would I let his sister at that age have a sleepover with a boy?”CreditCreditNick Oxford for The New York Times
     By Liz Tracy
The New York Times                             
When Trey Freund of Wichita, Kan., was 13, sleepovers and closed-door hangouts were part of his social life. So when he told his family he was gay, his father, Jeff Freund, a principal at an arts magnet middle school, asked himself, “Would I let his sister at that age have a sleepover with a boy?”

He thought about bullying, and about how other boys’ parents might react. “If they knew for sure my son was gay, I doubt they were going to let them come over,” he explained. Sleepovers for Trey ended after that.

Now at 16, with his family in the audience, Trey performs in drag at a local club. Instead of sleepovers, he drives home after hanging out with friends. He knows that limiting sleepovers was his father’s way of protecting him, but at the time, he recalled, “I felt like it was a planned attack against me.”

There are benefits to teen sleepovers. “It’s a nice break from a digital way of connecting,” said Dr. Blaise Aguirre, an adolescent psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “It’s a trusting and bonding experience.” 

“I think parents always want to make space for the stuff of childhood to happen,” said Stacey Karpen Dohn, who works with the families of transgender and gender-expansive youths as senior manager of Behavioral Health at Whitman-Walker Health, a community health center focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender care in Washington, D.C.

While teens may see sleepovers as just a chance to spend a lot of time with their friends, parents may worry about their children exploring their sexuality before they are ready and about their safety if they do. For some, the intimacy of having their teens spend long stretches of unsupervised time in pajamas in a bedroom with someone they may find sexually attractive can be unsettling.

Amy Schalet, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who studies adolescent sexuality, said that American parents tend to believe that by preventing coed sleepovers, they are protecting teens who may not be emotionally ready for sexual intimacy. Her book “Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex,” compared the way Dutch and American teens negotiate sex and love. Unlike Americans, who feel that teen sex shouldn’t happen at the parents’ homes, Dutch parents think teens can self-regulate their urges and often allow older teens in committed relationships to have sleepovers.

Dr. Schalet warned when it comes to sleepovers, sometimes “prohibition takes the place of conversation.” Parents can help children learn sexual agency and develop healthy sexual lives by talking to them about consent and whether experiences made them feel good or not. If they don’t take this route, she said, parents of L.G.B.T.Q. kids risk sending the message that they disapprove of this part of their human experience and that they don’t trust them to “develop the tools to experience this in a positive way,” Dr. Schalet said.

There is no one way to structure L.G.B.T.Q. sleepovers, but parents concerned about making sure their kids feel safe and free of shame can try to plan ahead. For example, they should ask the child if they want to share their sexual orientation or gender identity with their hosts. Or if the child is uncomfortable changing clothes in front of friends, parents can make a house rule that everyone changes in the bathroom. 

Dr. Aguirre suggested that parents who are concerned about possible sexual exploration to ask themselves: “What’s the fear?” For parents of L.G.B.T.Q. kids, he said, often “the fear is: Is my child going to be outed? Is my child going to be bullied? Is my child going to be harassed? Is my child going to be attacked? Because we know L.G.B.T.Q. kids are more likely to be bullied and harassed,” he said.

It’s critical for parents who want to keep their children safe at sleepovers to start building open, trusting, shame-free relationships with their young children so that kids can freely ask questions about sexuality as they grow.

“There shouldn’t be an assumption that your son is attracted to all of his male friends. That’s a sort of sexualizing of L.G.B.T.Q. youth,” Dr. Karpen Dohn explained.

If a teenager has a crush on a friend, Dr. Aguirre said parents can ask if they want to act on the crush and let them know sleepovers aren’t the place to do that. Parents can also use the conversation, if appropriate, to talk about the importance of contraception and protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

“When we’re not open about our children’s developmentally appropriate inquisition into their own identity, their own sexuality,” Dr. Aguirre said, “then we begin to pathologize normal human experiences like love, like desire.”

Christie Yonkers, executive director at a Cleveland synagogue, said that when her introverted 13-year-old daughter, Lola Chicotel, came out to her friends on Snapchat last year, she became “more socially active, has had more hangouts, more sleepovers.” Sleepover rules haven’t changed, but Ms. Yonkers allows them only at her home — something Dr. Karpen Dohn suggests for families of L.G.B.T.Q. youths.

The two have always spoken openly about personal safety and consent. Lola isn’t interested in dating yet, and Ms. Yonkers said she is not worried about any potential sexual experimentation. “As normal healthy developing kids who will become increasingly interested in expressing their sexuality — it just feels like normal healthy stuff,” she said. “My focus is on keeping the dialogue open.” She isn’t sure, however, if Lola’s future girlfriends will be allowed to spend the night.
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Logistical challenges create additional questions for transgender kids like 17-year-old JP Grant, a high school junior who lives near Boston.

When he started taking testosterone 10 months ago to transition from female to male, his parents ended sleepovers with girls and allowed them with boys. JP said he misses those playful experiences with female friends. “I’m still that same kid, that same person I was before I came out,” he explained, “For things to change like that, it made it feel like my trans identity was a burden.”

JP serves on the National Student Council of the L.G.B.T.Q. the youth organization, GLSEN, and volunteers with other groups that sometimes have events that involve spending the night away from home. Even with L.G.B.T.Q. groups, he says he still has to decide if he should disclose his trans identity with his roommates. He sleeps in clothing that isn’t aligned with his male identity and has to think about changing out of his binder, a garment he uses to flatten his breasts. “I have to make sure that I can get into and out of bed while feeling comfortable. I feel like that’s one of my biggest hurdles,” he said.

No matter what, rules at sleepovers need to be consistent for all the kids present. Since L.G.B.T.Q. teens may deal with discrimination at school or in certain social situations, “We don’t want to take home one more place where they don’t get to experience what other kids get to experience,” Dr. Karpen Dohn said. “We can’t necessarily protect them from the world around them, but the way we love them can help build coping skills and resilience.”

August 16, 2018

Oklahoma School Closes After Facebook Parents Threaten to Castrate 12 Year Old Transgender Girl


An Oklahoma school has been temporarily closed after a group of parents hurled abuse at a transgender student on Facebook.
Twelve-year-old “Maddie” (not her real name) has identified as a girl since 2016. She had previously used the staff bathroom, but following renovations she struggled to find it and instead used the girls' facilities. 
Speaking to KXII News, Maddie’s mother, Brandy Rose, said her daughter started at Achille two years ago and has only ever been known as a girl. “We had no problems when we first started,” Rose said. “She hadn’t been told where the staff bathroom was. Before she was able to be told, she had to pee, so she used the girls' bathroom one single time.”
Rose said the threats against Maddie have scared her. “These are adults making threats—I don’t understand it. She’s an awesome kid. To see any fear in her, I can’t explain how bad that hurts me for them to hurt her.”
According to News 4, Achille superintendent Rick Beene said they closed the school to avoid demonstrations. “The problem is, when you get into a small town, you don’t have to get a permit to demonstrate, therefore the problem with that is you don’t know who’s showing up, you don’t know what time they’re going to show up or anything like that,” Beene said.
“The thought was, for law enforcement, that you can have an opposing group that might be here and that could lead to problems so law enforcement asked me if we could shut down until Wednesday so they didn’t have to worry about those 360 kids in addition to what they were already having to deal with.”
Despite this, a small rally was held in support of Maddie on Tuesday morning. People picketed with signs reading “Love one another”, “#Love4Maddie” and “Bullying ain’t OK”.

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This brought tears to my eyes. Right in my backyard. — I need to know how Achille ISD supt., @joy4ok, and other authorities plan to protect this young girl from future violence and abuse. We have a duty to protect our children. @oksde

Speaking to KXII News, Maddie’s mother, Brandy Rose, said her daughter started at Achille two years ago and has only ever been known as a girl. “We had no problems when we first started,” Rose said. “She hadn’t been told where the staff bathroom was. Before she was able to be told, she had to pee, so she used the girls' bathroom one single time.”
Rose said the threats against Maddie have scared her. “These are adults making threats—I don’t understand it. She’s an awesome kid. To see any fear in her, I can’t explain how bad that hurts me for them to hurt her.”
According to News 4, Achille superintendent Rick Beene said they closed the school to avoid demonstrations. “The problem is, when you get into a small town, you don’t have to get a permit to demonstrate, therefore the problem with that is you don’t know who’s showing up, you don’t know what time they’re going to show up or anything like that,” Beene said.
“The thought was, for law enforcement, that you can have an opposing group that might be here and that could lead to problems so law enforcement asked me if we could shut down until Wednesday so they didn’t have to worry about those 360 kids in addition to what they were already having to deal with.”
Despite this, a small rally was held in support of Maddie on Tuesday morning. People picketed with signs reading “Love one another”, “#Love4Maddie” and “Bullying ain’t OK”. 


June 2, 2018

LGBT Pride Clothes to Kids by J.Crew

Featured Image
 (LifeSiteNews)  A popular clothing retailer is launching a line of rainbow-themed apparel for June’s “LGBT Pride Month,” targeting children and fundraising for a pro-homosexual lobbying group in the process.
J.Crew has revealed its “Love First” collection on its website, a selection of T-shirts, socks, and a tote bag featuring the phrases “love first” and “love to all.” Some of the items feature a rainbow motif, while others are adorned with the logo and the color scheme of the left-wing lobbying group Human Rights Campaign, to whom the company is donating 50% of the items’ purchase price.
“HRC is America’s largest civil rights organization working to ensure LGBTQ people are safe, equal and free in every community,” the company claims. HRC donates heavily to Democratic candidates including Hillary Clinton, opposes religious adoption agencies’ right to operate in accordance with their beliefs, and has gone to court to force small towns to accept “gay pride” parades.
One of J.Crew’s promotional images causing alarm on social media features a group of small children wearing rainbow “Love First” shirts. The shirt’s product page says it comes in sizes for kids as young as age two. J.Crew has also set aside Saturday, June 9 as a special “pride” day in their stores, where customers can “[g]et ready for a parade or just come in and share the love with free flags, temporary tattoos and so much more!”
This is just the latest in a long line of pro-homosexual moves by the retailer, which has featured same-sex couples in its catalogs for years and featured same-sex “wedding” editorials on its website. Its former president and creative director Jenna Lyons dated Courtney Crangi from 2011 to 2017.
The pro-homosexual clothing comes shortly after the company came under fire for partnering with progressive online shirt retailer Prinkstop to offer “I am a feminist too” T-shirts, intended specifically for boys and also for children as young as two.
The product description says the shirt is meant to teach boys that “women deserve Equal Pay, Equal Rights, Equal Respect.” A portion of the proceeds for each shirt goes toward the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, which largely focuses on health, safety, and violence in several third-world nations, but also endorses “reproductive health and rights,” which is commonly a euphemism for abortion.
Pro-homosexual activists are naturally cheering J.Crew’s “Love First” campaign, but others have responded with harsh criticism.
Commentary Magazine’s Sohrab Ahmari called it “repugnant” to “frame children at that age as sexual and sexualized beings, whatever the orientation.”
“What defines homosexuality is a sexual appetite for intimate physical activities with people of the same sex,” Catholic Vote’s Stephen Herreid noted. “Introducing it to minors means explicitly discussing arousal and genital contact with kids. The idea of strangers introducing homosexuality to children is unacceptable.”

January 8, 2018

Young, Gay and Living OnThe Streets {Being LGBT Increases Those Odds}

From left Jeremiah Wallace and Adrian St. Vincent seen at Ali Forney Center dwelling for LGBT youth.


Throughout high school and college, Alicia slept in cars, tents, friends’ couches, benches, on the bus, on the train, and in group homes. Almost anywhere but a shelter.
“My experience with shelters is that you’d go when it was raining. You’d go to San Francisco, wait in line and sleep on the floor if you slept at all,” the serious, soft-spoken Oakland woman, who’s now 22, said last week. “It’s scary enough to be a young person there. But if you’re queer you just feel a lot more vulnerable. You definitely avoid them.”
Alicia is still homeless but lives at a youth shelter in Oakland. She asked that her real name not is used to protect her identity.
As the cost of housing continues to soar in California and elsewhere, an increasing number of young people have become homeless, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Among those homeless, one group has it especially tough: Young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
“There’s a myth of San Francisco as the ‘gay mecca,’” said Jodi Schwartz, executive director of Lyric, a nonprofit community center in San Francisco that serves LGBT youth. “It can be. But just for some.”
The reality, she said, is that many LGBT young people end up on the street or in unstable housing. Many are there because they’ve been rejected by their parents, peers or society in general due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
One measure of how many are affected comes from Lyric. Of the 600 mostly LGBT young people enrolled in Lyric’s programs in San Francisco, 56 percent are homeless or have unstable housing situations and all are low-income.
Across California and the nation, thousands of LGBT young people can be found on the street, in shelters or couch surfing with friends or relatives, said, Schwartz and other experts. 
LGBT young people ages 13 to 25 are 120 percent more likely to become homeless than their straight peers, according to a national survey of 26,000 young people released in November by Chapin Hall, a University of Chicago research and policy center. And of the nation’s 1.6 million youth 18 and younger who were homeless at some point last year, 40 percent were LGBT, even though they represent only 7 percent of that youth population overall, according to True Colors Fund, a New York nonprofit that advocates on behalf of homeless LGBT youth.
In California, the number of homeless children in K-12 schools overall has jumped 20 percent from 2014-15 to 2016-17, according to data collected by the California Department of Education. Based on questionnaires filed by their families, more than 200,000 young people were living on the streets, in motels, in cars, in shelters or crowded into apartments with other families due to financial hardship.

 While state data does not identify whether any of these students are LGBT, youth homeless experts said gay students are disproportionately represented.
What drives LGBT youth to homelessness “is complicated, nuanced and difficult to classify,” said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a youth homelessness policy nonprofit in Washington, D.C.
Sometimes LGBT youth are abandoned by their families, or they run away from home because they feel unwelcome or abused after telling their parents they’re gay. And sometimes their sexual identity makes them feel disconnected, which can lead to other contributing factors for homelessness, such as drug abuse, depression, family conflict or chronic absence from school.
According to a 2012 study by the True Colors Fund, Palette Fund and Williams Institute at UCLA, 46 percent of LGBT youth who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless left home because of family rejection due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Forty-three percent were forced out by their parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Thirty-two percent left because of physical, emotional or sexual abuse at home, and 17 percent aged out of the foster system. Neglect, substance abuse, mental illness and lack of affordable housing were among the other reasons LGBT young people became homeless.
Nationwide, 25 percent of LGBT teens are thrown out of their homes at some point after coming out to their parents, according to a 2015 True Colors Fund survey of 138 agencies that provide services to LGBT homeless young people. Although that’s less common in urban, gay-friendly areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles, it still happens, Schwartz said.
But, she added, it’s not sexual or gender identity alone that leads young people to live on the street or in shelters. It’s a kaleidoscope of factors, she said.
“Every young person has a unique set of experiences and realities,” she said. “The more a young person has going on — if they’re poor, homeless, disconnected, feel oppressed because of their race or if they’re LGBT — you’re going to see increased barriers.”
Alicia was in the foster care system starting at age 6 months when Child Protective Services took her from her mother due to neglect. She was in and out of foster care and group homes in the East Bay Area most of her childhood, running away periodically to avoid abusive living situations.
When she was about 12 years old she felt she might not be heterosexual, but kept it to herself.
“I had to be very calculated about everything, especially about how I presented myself. I wanted to present myself as super tough and not a burden on anyone,” she said. “I didn’t want to give people another reason not to like me. I felt like I could never really be myself…I had to keep my guard up constantly. I felt pretty alone.”
After graduating from an alternative high school, Alicia was awarded a scholarship to study at Mills College in Oakland. At the private women’s school, Alicia said she found a “supportive queer community” and thrived academically, with double majors in history and urban education.
But she kept her homelessness a secret. She couch-surfed, slept in cars and occasionally slept in a tent in nearby Emeryville. Because she never felt safe sleeping outdoors at night, she’d work graveyard shifts at stores and restaurants and sleep on park benches, buses or trains during the day — a much safer option, she said, considering that young homeless people, especially girls, are sometimes sexually assaulted or coerced into trading sex for food or money. Homeless people who are LGBT are especially vulnerable because they’re more likely to be victimized and engage in unsafe sex and have a harder time finding a supporting network of peers, according to the True Colors Fund.
Alicia studied in the college library and computer laboratory, showered at the school gym and generally took life one day at a time. But by last year, the street life began to wear on her health, both physically and emotionally. When a close friend died, she decided she needed a permanent solution. Living on the street would eventually kill her, she said.
She called Covenant House, a youth shelter in Oakland, and after three months on the waiting list was offered a bed. Covenant House is part of a national nonprofit system of youth shelters with several shelters in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. At the Oakland facility, residents can stay up to two years and receive medical and mental health services, job training, help finding permanent housing, links to education, help with financial planning and other services intended to get young people off the streets permanently.
Ninety-four percent of Covenant House residents find stable housing and employment once they leave, said Noel Russell, Covenant House development officer.
“It works,” she said. “But we just need more beds. We have 100 people on our waiting list and there are thousands of young people in the Bay Area sleeping on the street every night. … No child chooses that. No child deserves that.”
The first thing Covenant House offers new arrivals is sleep and regular meals — two things homeless young people are not in the habit of enjoying. Alicia said she was so accustomed to not sleeping or eating she could barely do either for the first few weeks she was there.
But after a while, she settled in, and staff suggested that because she enjoyed studying, she should apply to graduate school. She did and was admitted to the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare, where she is working toward a master’s degree in social work. Her goal: to become a social worker so she can help other homeless young people.
While she’s proud she survived and feels confident she’ll eventually find a well-paying job and permanent housing, she feels she missed out on a childhood and suffered unnecessarily for years. She can’t ride a bike, she never learned basic things like how to floss and she often can’t relate to her classmates. When they talk about their favorite Christmas rituals, for example, she remains silent.
“Absolutely nothing that happened to me is acceptable, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone else,” she said. “It’s not OK to think a kid can sleep on the street and nothing will happen to them. … We all have a responsibility to do something about it.”
This story originally appeared on EdSource is an independent journalism organization that works to engage Californians on key education challenges with the goal of enhancing learning success.

February 26, 2015

NYC Youth Sell Their Bodies in Order to Survive

 1971 The more things change the more they stay the same for gay youth
Grey Villet—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Image
 Youth in New York share experiences selling their bodies in order to survive in new Urban Institute report 
A new report paints a grim picture of homeless youths selling their bodies in order to survive on the streets. 
In partnership with the New York-based Streetwise and Safe, the Urban Institute interviewed 283 youths who had engaged in sex work or so-called “survival sex” with people of the same gender, mostly while homeless, for its latest study.

The research built on several studies on homeless youth, including a survey out of New York that found that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth were seven times more likely to have traded sex for food or a place to stay.

Meredith Dank, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute and lead author of the study, said she realized during earlier research on sex work that there was not enough good information about why LGBT youths made these decisions, so the study focused on letting them tell their own stories.

“I realized at that point that there was so much that we didn’t know about this population,” she tells TIME. “And if we were really going to be able to serve the needs of these young people we needed to know exactly what their experiences were and the large breadth of their experiences.”

Many of the stories detailed in the report are telling; and a great deal of those who engaged in the work didn’t identify as gay—but they found themselves selling their bodies to people of the same sex in order to survive. 
One 20-year-old straight male described his experience: “He asked me like do you really need the money? At that moment I thought I did. I felt I did and . . . like it was just like he grabbed me by like my waist and he just started doing it. And it was like . . . and I just like, try to close my eyes. Just try to think about something else.”

Another 19-year-old gay Latino said he felt he had no choice: “If you have no food in your stomach, if you have no transportation, but you have a man in your face willing to give you money for a half hour. You put your pride to the side, you throw everything out the window and you forget who you are and you forget what you’re doing and you learn to be someone else.”

The exact number of homeless youth is hard to pin down. In 2014, the Department of Education reported that 1.3 million school children are homeless. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that a total of 578,424 people were homeless on a given night in 2014—about 10% were between the ages of 18 and 24. According to some estimates, as many as 40% of homeless youths are LGBT.

Even though the report focuses on New York City, Dank stressed that it is not “the place where all gay kids go to engage in survival sex.”

“Having had many conversations with people who work with this population in California, Florida, the Midwest, the Northwest,” she says. “They’re seeing the same things amongst the young people that they are working with, particularly with LGBT youth.”

Fifty-eight percent of the young people interviewed in the study lived either in a shelter or on the streets. About 30% lived in either a friend or family member’s home or in their own apartment, often giving the money they made in the sex trade to families members in need. Almost half of the participants were male, and the report includes insight into the experiences of trans males, which according to Dank is unprecedented.

The report comes as Congress is looking at human trafficking as a rare issue of bipartisan agreement. Already the House of Representatives has sent a number of bills on the issue to the Senate, although the legislation tends not to address the needs of homeless and LGBT youths. Dank says that’s a missed opportunity.

“If you’re going to be pouring resources and passing bills around this I think [it’s] important to know that this is another part of the population that needs to have their needs met and served,” she says.


June 18, 2014

Gay Families afraid to send their kids to school in Russia

 Bill to remove children from same-sex families still being reworked
Yana and her five-year-old son march down St Petersburg’s central promenade, Nevsky, hand-in-hand behind a sea of rainbow flags. It is May 1 and Nevsky Street, usually packed with cars, public transport, cyclists and tourists, is blocked off for the democracy march in honour of May Day. Union members, activists and other groups have come out to demonstrate their views.
“My partner was against us coming here,” Yana says. “But I felt it was important for our son to be part of the rainbow delegation. He needs to grow up understanding that our family is part of the LGBT community.”
Yana and her son march, unflinching, past religious-right activists taunting the LGBT procession from the sidelines. An older lady screams, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” A younger woman in a turquoise hoodie photographs the mother and child, threatening to alert authorities to what she deems a violation of Russia’s infamous gay-propaganda law.
For Yana, bringing her son to an LGBT rally is a risk. Legislation banning children’s exposure to “gay propaganda” already means same-sex families have to be cautious about publicly declaring their orientation. Now, a proposed amendment to the Russian Federation’s Family Code that would allow government to revoke parental rights of individuals suspected of engaging in homosexual behaviour looms over the LGBT community as well.
Same-sex families are no strangers to risk — simple actions in their daily lives, such as going out as a family in a public space or posting photographs on social media, pose a threat. Even sending children to school can be nerve-wracking.
“We are afraid to send our son to a public school,” says Sasha, a 30-year-old mother and LGBT rights activist who works for Coming Out in St Petersburg. After spending a long day at work and rushing to bring her son home from school before meeting for this interview, the slim woman with closely cropped blonde curls has dark circles under her eyes.
“There is a lot of control over parents right now. Children are constantly asked about their family, and same-sex families are not considered legitimate. We would have had to lie to our child or be ready for constant conflict,” she explains.
Instead, the couple’s son attends an alternative school where the small, seven-children classes are composed of children from other minorities or with special needs. Although they have to work hard to cover tuition, Sasha says she and her partner feel it is the safest solution.
Same-sex families living in other parts of the country, or lacking resources for private schooling, are not so fortunate. Children from these families are also forced into a closeted lifestyle. “This is how most other families we know live,” Sasha explains. “As soon as their child becomes old enough to discuss the makeup of their family with peers, they have to explain that there are some private things that the child can never speak about.”
According to Sasha, the outlook for same-sex families was more promising earlier this decade. During the times of the Soviet Union, when homosexuality was a crime, LGBT people were forced to live closeted lives. Glasnost, in the late 1980s, brought more liberal laws and attitudes to Russia. By the early 2000s, life for gays and lesbians living in big cities had changed.
“We were able to create several strong LGBT rights organizations in St Petersburg,” Sasha says. “On a private level, people began to live openly and to feel comfortable starting a family. There was a short moment when we felt very strong, and we felt that equal rights were possible here.”
At that time, Sasha’s son attended a public nursery, and the couple was open about their orientation, even bringing their son to LGBT events.
“We took part in a rainbow flashmob as a family,” Sasha says. “Now, people shoot at the LGBT at these events, so of course, we would no longer take our child there.”
Today, Sasha and her partner continue to do their best to help their son understand the truth about their family and about the current political situation. “We discuss it in a language he can understand,” she explains. “Our child knows that I work at a human rights organization. He knows that in Russia bad laws, which are making people suffer, are being adopted. He knows that at my organization we do not want these laws to exist, so we try to explain to people that these laws are bad.”
In 2009, Sasha and a group of other same-sex parents came together to work on a research project through Coming Out. When their work started there were two goals: to help same-sex families find a community and to educate the general public.
Changes in the political climate have halted the project. “The idea of increasing visibility is no longer an option at all,” Sasha says. “Our first priority is simply safety.” Instead, Coming Out conducted research to learn about same-sex parents’ situations and to find out how the organization could help.
Findings from the survey, which polled 98 families in November 2013, revealed that 49 percent of same-sex families had changed their coming-out strategy after the gay-propaganda law was passed and now tend to be much more cautious about revealing their orientation.
When the first draft of the amendment that would allow children to be removed from same-sex families made it to the Duma in September 2013, Sasha says, Coming Out was flooded with requests from families looking to flee the country.
Now the panic has abated because actions around the law have stopped, and same-sex families are less anxious to leave. After the bill was returned to its author, Deputy Alexey Zhuravlev, for reworking — he was asked to explain how same-sex families would be identified — more pressing issues, such as dealing with the situation in Ukraine, took precedence for government.
Sasha believes that as soon as the more pressing issues are resolved, the law will resurface. “At this time, the best solution seems to be to close the door behind yourself and to pretend that you do not exist,” she says. “Then, maybe, you will not be noticed and you will be able to live in peace.”
Sasha speaks to members of same-sex families through her work at Coming Out, and she reports that the mood is heavy. “Many express suicidal thoughts because they cannot see any escape,” she says. “They do not see how their child can be happy in a country which has declared their family to be one of the greatest evils.”
While immigration, and perhaps political asylum, are options, they are far from ideal solutions. These families, who have survived discrimination and oppression, are hesitant to embark on yet another challenging journey. “Immigration is not about improving their situation, but about giving their children at least some kind of hope for happiness,” Sasha says.
Sasha says she hopes to stay in St Petersburg and to continue her work fighting for LGBT rights, but a current law project may force her to immigrate. Her son is HIV-positive and relies on medication from Canada. A proposed law to ban foreign medications in Russia means he would not be able to maintain his health. “If these drugs are changed to what is available in Russia, he will experience a lot of side effects,” Sasha says. “We did not have any desire to leave until this law was proposed. If it goes through, we may have to.”
Some same-sex families remain hopeful that the situation will stabilize. Valentina and Masha, who took in a second child after the amendment to remove children from same-sex families was proposed, do not believe the law will be enforced if families keep a low profile.
“We wanted a second child for a long time,” Masha says. “When we read about the law we felt very uneasy, but we decided to do it anyway because we do not want our lives to depend on these types of initiatives.”
“This law is meant to scare activists who are fighting for equal rights,” Valentina says. “It will probably not be enforced in situations like ours. But even if it is not, it is very difficult for families like ours from a psychological perspective.”
The psychological pressure is palpable in the shabby, yet warm and sunny, apartment the two women share with their two children, six-year-old Kirill and three-year-old Davy. As the landlords are in the process of selling the property, frequent visitors infiltrate their home, and the women must be careful to keep their space from betraying their orientation.   
The care exercised during these visits is just one of many ruses the couple must incorporate into their daily lives. As same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt children, the women have legal guardianship of one child each. Officially, Masha is Davy’s legal guardian, and the two reside at her parents’ home.
“When the authorities come to check on her, I have to take our things and go to my parents’ place,” she explains. Although Masha’s parents are very supportive, living a double life is difficult. “Aside from the practical inconvenience of having to pack up at a moment’s notice, having to lie creates the sensation that our life only exists within our own consciousness,” Masha says.
Masha and Valentina choose to live a partially closed life in order to keep their family safe. Masha has not come out at work, and some of their friends are not aware of their orientation. Although the women have told Kirill that families can be composed of two mothers or two fathers, they have not discussed the implications of being a same-sex family.
“When it comes to talking to him about the fact that our family may face some kind of threat, I really do not know how to approach it,” Valentina says. “He thinks very linearly at this age, so it could be like a punch in the face.”
When Kirill brings home controversial ideas, the women do their best to set him straight and to teach him about equality. “He brought some idea home that [Slavic] Russian people are the best. I told him that neither of us are quite Russian,” Valentina explains.
The couple’s daughter, Davy, is Roma, so she belongs to another minority that is oppressed in Russia. “This is a more open issue, and it is easier to discuss with Kirill,” Valentina says. “We explain to him that not everyone likes people who look different, so someone might try to insult Davy. He says he will protect her.”
The couple also struggles with more practical obstacles to child-rearing that result from the current regime. When Kirill, who is often ill, was hospitalized, Masha was not allowed to visit. Once, when Masha took Kirill to a private clinic, she was scolded for coming in place of his mother. Due to Kirill’s poor health, and Masha’s inability to provide support in managing the situation, Valentina was forced to switch her full-time role as a psychologist on a crisis line to part-time work.
“There are a lot of little problems, but they add up, and you realize that they are not little problems but serious problems,” says Yury, a 33-year-old veterinarian who adopted Yaroslav with his partner two years ago and is the four-year-old’s legal guardian. “For example, when our child is sick, I am the only one who can take a sick day. Sometimes I cannot afford to do that because I make more money.”
As a male couple, Yury and his partner face more difficulties. “There are a lot of bureaucratic issues we face,” he says. It took two months to get Yaroslav a permit to leave the country — a process that normally takes two weeks. “It is because I have to come in as a single father, and the officials look at me differently,” Yury explains. 
The adoption process was especially challenging for his family. When the couple made the decision to adopt, eight years into their relationship, friends and family did not believe that they would succeed in passing the rigorous screening process. 
Yury had to pose as a single father. Even so, he faced discrimination. “I had to go through two training courses and three psychiatrists to prove that I was not a pedophile,” he says. While, according to Yury, an adoption typically takes three to four months, it took him a year to complete the process.
After Yury completed a month-long government parenting class that everyone interested in adopting is encouraged to take, he had to go see a psychologist. “It was a lot of psychological pressure,” he says. “There was a lot of focus on my past relationships with women. To keep my story straight, I substituted names of my female friends for names of my past lovers. When I got home from the first meeting, I vomited as soon as I got out of the car. Then I slept for 24 hours.”
Still, officials were not satisfied and referred Yury to a two-month private parenting course. “We all had to speak to psychologists and discuss various parenting scenarios,” he recalls. “One time I brought a female friend in to pose as my fiancรฉ. We pulled it off, and shockingly, the psychologists did not guess anything was off.”
When Yury arrived at the orphanage to select a child for adoption, he did not receive a warm reception from staff. “The director of the orphanage had looked me up on social media and had photographs of my partner and me on his desk,” he says. “When I assured him that my partner was just a close relative he seemed all right.”
Yury first met Yaroslav on April 12, the boy’s birthday, when he arrived at the orphanage with a toy car as a gift. “I was sitting on this worn out couch, and he was carried out in the shabby orphanage uniform — a nightgown and white leggings,” he recalls. “When he looked at me and smiled, I knew that he was the right choice.”
He had to wait six months before his case for adoption could be heard in court, then sit through three hearings. “There were all kinds of bureaucratic issues, but I think that they just set them up to watch me,” Yury says.
Two years later, the family has settled into a comfortable routine. Since Yury is the official guardian, Yaroslav is told to call him father and his partner godfather. “At first my partner was hurt, but he realizes that this is the way it has to be and has adjusted,” Yury says.
As for Yaroslav, he appears perfectly content. He is happy to be spending a Sunday with his father. Clad in matching cozy sweaters, the two cuddle up on a bench at a cafรฉ, while Yaroslav slurps down a milkshake and Yury sips on fruit tea. Yaroslav says his godfather is at work but will join them later.
The couple plan to reveal the truth about their family to Yaroslav just before he hits his teens. “Psychologists say that the best time for these conversations is around 10 or 11,” Yury explains.
By then, the couple hope to be living in a friendlier place. “The government is creating an increasingly homophobic society, and I think that it will become more dangerous every year,” Yury says. “When kids are small they have a simpler relation to non-traditional families. But by 10 or 11, they develop an awareness of family roles. That is when the problems will start.”
Despite the challenges Yury and his partner have faced, they are certain that they made the right decision. “I hope that more LGBT people will consider adopting children,” he says. “It is a very big step in a relationship, and it is a really great step. It is much better than being on our own.”

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