Each year, thousands of LGBT kids nationwide have nowhere to spend Thanksgiving. It’s a problem in Cleveland as well, with nowhere for many of them to spend the holiday.
It’s estimated LGBT youth make up 42% of the homeless youth population, but only 7% of the overall population. In Cleveland, when their families turn them away – there’s almost nowhere for them to go.
“If I didn’t have a place to go, if I didn’t know that there were other people like me, I don’t think I would’ve made it very far,” said Akeem Jamal Rollins.
Rollins works at the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland. But his time working there is built on years of coming to the center as a young gay and homeless man.
He came out at 12 and at 14 he was kicked out of the house.
“I ran away a few times and ended up in foster care,” he said.
But ultimately, he would end up working with groups of LGBT youth, in the same situation he was in, years before.
“Being able to come back and really, really understand, with first-hand knowledge the stories and the problems that our youth face,” he said.
Wednesday he orchestrated a group discussion with kids about being young and identifying as LGBT during the holidays.
“You start to disassociate,” said Rollins. “Like you don’t care it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas or that these holidays are going on. You just want to have a place where you can survive.”
“Cleveland actually doesn’t have any LGBT specific homeless resources,” said Eric Hayes, Communications and Development Coordinator at the Center.
So while LGBT youth make up a majority of the homeless youth, there’s still no LGBT specific place for them to go in Cleveland. Hayes said many take to the streets, where experts say they’re more likely to use drugs, sell themselves for sex or commit suicide.
“The homeless shelters aren’t always safe, there’s often a lot of violence or discrimination, especially against LGBT people in the shelters,” he said.