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Queens Chronicle

LGBT youth shelter opens in Astoria

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Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2009 12:00 am

What do you do if your family beats you up or kicks you out for being gay?

Thousands of young people in the city struggle with those scenarios, ultimately ending up on the streets. By some estimates, 30 to 40 percent of the city’s homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The resources available to them are stretched thin, but in the past few weeks several have found a temporary home in Astoria.

The Ali Forney Center, which seeks to support homeless LGBT youth across the city, has opened a new shelter in St. Andrew’s Church on 31st Avenue.

The facility, which belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, has 16 beds and welcomes LGBT individuals ages 18 to 24 for up to six months. While at the shelter, residents receive help finishing their schooling, looking for jobs, finding permanent housing and learning the skills to survive on their own.

Carl Siciliano, executive director of Ali Forney, said gays face problems other homeless youth don’t.

“We still live in a very divided society, and if your parents are on the negative side of that divide, some of these kids go through really horrific violence at home,” Siciliano said. “There are thousands of kids who are being beaten up and humiliated and harassed and tortured.”

Some individuals are thrown out; others leave because they can’t stand the hostile environment at home, he said, adding that between 60 and 70 percent of the youths Ali Forney helps have experienced domestic violence at home because of their sexual orientation.

“There’s just a lot of trauma around kids coming out as gay,” Siciliano said. “We say, ‘Come out, come out, come out,’ and then they come out and get thrown into the street.”

Danny Dromm, the city councilman-elect for District 25 and an active leader in the gay community, said the problems are compounded because gays aren’t welcome at some of the city’s youth shelters.

“The largest homeless shelter for any kids is Covenant House, and yet Covenant House is run by the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church is not an LGBT-supportive environment, nor does it allow safe sex information to be distributed or condoms to be distributed.”

Dromm said that’s a problem. “Many of these homeless youth do sex work to survive on the streets, and they’re never getting that information,” he said, adding that this puts them at high risk of contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Dromm applauded the new Astoria shelter, but added that since thousands of LGBT youth are homeless, “it’s really just a drop in the bucket.”

The new facility is one of four Ali Forney emergency shelters for LGBT youth citywide.

Welcome to the discussion.