Activists to lobby for LGBTQ homeless youth in Olympia
by James Whitely – SGN Staff Writer
On February 22, LGBTQ Allyship, alongside Equal Rights Washington (ERW), will participate in a homeless and foster-care youth lobby day in Olympia, led by the Mockingbird Society, a foster-care youth lobby group.
‘Homelessness is an LGBTQ issue,’ said Doug Hamilton, ERW’s operations manager. ‘An estimated 40% of youth on the streets are LGBTQ – and Seattle is kind of a Mecca for them.’
Each year, hundreds of youth from around the state join the Mockingbird Society to bring the needs of foster-care and homeless youth to the attention of lawmakers. This is the first time, however, that a uniquely LGBTQ voice will be heard among them.
‘The event is officially a youth advocacy awareness day put on by the Mockingbird Society,’ said Hamilton. ‘The Mockingbird Society has done advocacy for foster-care youth for decades – it’s a very powerful and formidable lobby.’
MARCH ALSO PLANNED
The event will feature speakers followed by a short march. LGBTQ Allyship and ERW will have its own contingent. After the march, constituents will have an opportunity to meet with directly with their state senators and representatives.
Allyship has been working on homeless youth issues for the past year and a half, organizing various panel discussions and holding focus groups in which activists spoke directly with LGBTQ homeless youth.
‘We started by connecting with youth, asking them what were the challenges and disparities unique to them. We then spoke with some of the LGBTQ staff [at organizations/centers that serve homeless youth], who have also been part of our Queerly Classified panels,’ said Debbie Carlsen, director of Allyship. ‘Our involvement, particularly in this advocacy day, is a result of that.’
LACK OF AWARENESS
‘Many youth were just unaware of services even on Capitol Hill. Many didn’t know where Gay City was, or Seattle Counseling Service, or Enter Hermanos,’ said Carlsen. ‘It’s one the reasons we’re doing this – we want to be visible allies. We’re looking for creative ways to connect with younger people as adults, and this is one of them.’
Carlsen added that she wants to ‘bring about a unified front of LGBTQ activists’ to address the homeless youth problem, specifically as LGBTQ adults and particularly as allies, in the sense of non-homeless organizers lobbying for homeless youth.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
Anyone interested in being part of the February 22 event can register online at either the Allyship or ERW website. While not required, registration gets you access to carpools to and from Olympia, as well as a free lunch. For the march, those interested in joining Allyship and ERW are encouraged to wear pink.
‘We’re really encouraging people to turn out,’ said Hamilton. ‘What we’re really looking for people to do is to share their story, either about themselves or someone they know – when they were particularly vulnerable and the state let them down; when they were disempowered and could have, or did, end up on the street. We want the legislature to hear those stories, but we also want to thank them for the work they’ve done for our community already.’