BY CARL SICILIANO | Dear Governor Cuomo, Last fall, I was honored to receive a call from your campaign staff inviting me to bring homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youths from the Ali Forney Center to a campaign event for you in Brooklyn with President Clinton. The youths were excited to see you and President Clinton, and we felt the invitation demonstrated a real concern from you about their lives and their plight.
Now, six months later, we are stunned and horrified by your proposal to put an end to any New York State support for homeless youth shelters. In New York City, there are 3,800 youth who go without shelter every night, over 1,000 of whom are LGBT. Fewer than 300 shelter beds currently exist for these kids, and every night, thousands are forced to fend for themselves on the streets.
Mr. Governor, I invite you to stop into one of our youth shelters. Maybe you can explain to our kids why they should be turned out of their beds and put in the street so you can give tax breaks to millionaires, to paraphrase your own father in his address at the 1984 Democratic Convention.
Maybe you could explain how they are supposed to survive alone on the streets at night. I don’t have an answer for them, and their pain and confusion are palpable.
Most of our clients are the most vulnerable LGBT youth in the community, rejected and abused by parents who cannot accept having gay children, discarded and thrown out of their homes simply for being LGBT.
It is inexplicable how you –– a longtime ally to the gay community and champion of civil rights for LGBT adults, who has repeatedly made a commitment to marriage equality in New York –– can have so little concern for the safety and welfare of these young people.
How you can do this when the larger LGBT community and our allies are in a state of anguish over the plight of so many of our kids committing suicide, to which the national media finally paid extensive attention in the past six months, and which has prompted action from local and state governments across the country as well as the White House and the federal government?
The facts are shocking: studies show that 62 percent of homeless LGBT youth consider or attempt suicide, and 20 percent of homeless LGBT youth in New York City become infected with HIV.
Our community demands an explanation as to why, in a budget proposal that reduces spending by 2.7 percent, you are reducing programs for vulnerable youth by 50 percent and are eliminating all dedicated support for homeless youth. Why should destitute youth and other vulnerable populations across the state pay such a disproportionate price, especially when there are so many other areas of the budget where you could obtain the same fiscal results without the pain these cuts will cause?
Mr. Governor, I have no idea how to explain to our kids why they should be thrown out of their shelter beds. They want to know why such an LGBT-supportive politician who wanted their support has now put them in harm’s way. They demand an answer and would like to hear from you directly.
Or, you could skip the visit and simply restore all the funding for homeless youth to the budget. The young people have an amazing capacity to forgive, even with all they have been through. Do away with your plan to eliminate funds and the plan of the State Legislature to cut those funds in half.
Our youths have no option but to look to you for wisdom and leadership, to see that their lives matter to you and have value, to see that they too are counted as citizens of our great state.
On their behalf, I implore you to protect homeless LGBT youth, and all homeless youth, not leave them out in the cold. Your words and actions will have a direct impact on these young New Yorkers.
They at least deserve an explanation.
Ali Forney Center
New York City
The Ali Forney Center provides supportive housing and social, health, and mental health services for homeless LGBT youth in New York City.