I am working on a series of stories about housing and homelessness in Connecticut, thanks to a generous grant from Melville Charitable Trust.
I’ve done one story so far, on the high cost of renting in the state, and how that’s going to get even uglier as we Boomers march lock-step to the grave.
The next story I’m working on is youth homelessness, and so yesterday I went to True Colors to interview the executive director, Robin McHaelen. Robin and I have circled one another for decades — me as a journalist, she as a dedicated activist. We pulled up chairs to a table in her office in a converted old factory in Hartford. Research says roughly 40 percent of youth who are homeless are LGBTQ. They are the runaways and the throw-aways.
As we settled in, she asked if I wanted to talk to Jazmine, a young trans woman who was homeless. I’d interviewed a young trans woman who was recently housed, but I said “Sure.”
So in walked Jazmine, a tall and sweet-faced trans woman with turquoise hair and beautiful earrings. She pulled up a chair, I explained she didn’t have to answer any questions that made her uncomfortable, and she began to piece together her story. She’d lived with her grandmother from the age of 7, and when she came out as a gay young man, her grandmother was accepting. But when she came out as trans, all bets were off. I didn’t ask too many details, but it sounded like things went from bad to worse. In January, Jazmine, who will be a senior in high school this year, attempted suicide.
That is a common story among trans youth, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic. Robin sat close to Jazmine, stroking her arm, and at one point, Jazmine started to cry. I flipped off the recorder and Robin talked softly to her until she stopped crying. She’d spent the last few nights with an employee of True Colors, and expected to be there again last night.
This is the second young person I’ve talked to who is trans, and is or was homeless. And this is the second young trans woman I’ve met in the course of this story who’s attempted suicide — to be followed rather quickly with their family member asking them to leave the house.
So at their most vulnerable point, family support was removed.
There’s a lot I don’t understand about being trans, but the main thing I don’t understand is how you can stop showing love to a family member over something like this. I don’t get it. I probably won’t ever get it. Robin McHaelen says families can change, that their first reaction isn’t usually the reaction they cleave to. I hope that’s true. But wow.
It may be time to interview families of trans kids, who probably are in their own kind of pain around the issue.
That’s precisely right, I think. Robin McHaelen talked about that a lot, that there is ample opportunity to work with families who very much want to love these kids, but don’t know how. Or are blocked somehow from accepting them. She talked about not necessarily changing beliefs or value systems, but changing behaviors toward this group of youth.
I imagine there could be an initial feeling of loss, in that the daughter or son is no more. As with other loss, initial denial may be natural. I can understand that. However, if acceptance doesn’t quickly follow, then I don’t get it. Rejection in these situations is hard to understand – I simply don’t understand it. I do hope that when a parent rejects a child, for any reason, that child finds supportive surrogate parents and friends.
I am so sorry Jazmine has faced loss of support from her family. Speaking up now is a courageous thing to do and with it, I hope she feels hope in receiving support from readers and from people who are close to her. Society can be slow to learn about issues like this, but society does learn, change, and accept. Have hope, Jazmine.
I really wish more people could face these kinds pic topics with the same mind that you do…open to learn as much as possible.
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