23 January 2011

Unemployed and Homeless LGBTs: How Many?

The weather forecast is calling for the coldest night in six years.  

I can recall that cold spell.  It was like that winter:  It was brutal and seemed endless.  As I recall, the spring was just a brief respite--a truce, almost--between the cold and snow that seemed to blitz us every day, for longer than they should have,  and the blasts of  heat that came only a few weeks later.  

Back then, I was co-facilitating a group for young LGBT people.  What struck me then was how many of them had no place to go after that group.  A few went to the shelters; others wouldn't because of the violence that, when it didn't erupt in screams and blows, seemed to murmur in rumbles like fighting just on the other side of the line.  Almost no one chooses to go into a line of fire; no one should be foreced to do so.

Unfortunately, for some of those young people, the only alternative was another battle-zone:  the streets. Some spent the nights on them--under highway overpasses or in doorways, until they were chased out. At least three (that I knew of) went home--with whoever paid them, however little, for their bodies.  And one didn't even get paid:  All she got was to lie in a bed but not to sleep in it.  

Except for the times I've gone into a shelter, I never saw as many homeless people in one room as I did during those group sessions.  And, I certainly never saw so many young people who were so desperate.

I won't try to extrapolate what percentage of transgender youth are homeless or what percentage are unemployed, or whatever.  After all, nobody has an accurate count of how many of us there are.  Lots of us--like some members of that group--drop out of school and run away from home because of the beatings they got at school--or on the streets, or even at home.  They are known as boys or girls when they disappear from view of their peers and elders in their communities; they are not classified as transgender (or, for that matter, gay, lesbian or bisexual) in any of their identifying documentation.  They "fall between the cracks" of society's various systems.  

Plus, almost no one, it seems, agrees on who should be classified as LGBT.  If we count only the self-identified, we will miss many more because, if for no other reason,  so many fall "off the radar"--as some members of that group did--and therefore cannot be reached by researchers.  

From what I've just said, such statistics as the unemployment rates of LGBT people cannot be accurately measured  because young people who leave school and home have probably never worked, and therefore cannot be counted as unemployed.  Still others are, like a few members of that group, sex workers of one kind or another.  That's the only work some of them have ever done; tragically, it's the only work that some of them ever have the opportunity to do anything else.  Of course, anyone doing that kind, or any other illegal, work is, as they say, "off the books."

It's widely known that the US Census misses a lot of people.  Many others don't comply with it, and still others give only the barest minimum of information on the Census questionnaires.  So if one of the largest and best-funded operations of its kind can't even find all taxpaying citizens, how can anyone hope to do an accurate count people who never had the opportunity to participate in the legal economy?

So, no one may ever have an accurate count of us, never mind how many of us are homeless, unemployed or victims of crime, including murder.  I am almost entirely certain, however, that we are overrepresented in those categories.  

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