Transgender athletes are getting an ally in the White House next week as they seek to participate as their identified gender in high school and college sports — although state legislatures, Congress and the courts are all expected to have their say this year, too.
On Saturday afternoon, the New Haven Pride Center hosted a virtual Community Conversation called “How is Homelessness Affecting the LGBTQ+ Community?”
Ala Ochumare, a queer Black woman, and Eliot Olson, a queer trans man, led an interactive discussion with community members. The two, who are both program officers with the NHPC, have also experienced homelessness.
The event focused specifically on homelessness among LGBTQ youth — particularly those who are trans or from under-resourced racial groups — and drew discussion from LGBTQ community members as well as non-LGBTQ allies.
“The life challenge of poverty and homelessness is a very violent tale,” said Ochumare.
According to Olson, queer and trans youth often lack a material safety net of support. He pointed out that though national awareness of LGBTQ issues has risen over past years, LGBTQ youth still often lack the resources they need. He called for deeper, structural changes to social services — asserting that stating support for LGBTQ communities without providing concrete resources is insufficient.
Ochumare echoed this sentiment, claiming that the restructuring of a state-run youth homelessness program in Connecticut gave the appearance of action while falling well short of the resources required. The systemic descrimination and economic incentives, she added, resulted in the brunt of the shortage falling on Black, queer and trans youth.
“It looked like a lot happened, and so folks stopped caring,” she said.
Event participants also highlighted the specific impact of the pandemic on LGBTQ youths. Kirill Lebedev, who runs a peer support hotline for trans people and is himself an intersex trans man, said he had seen a rise in domestic violence against trans minors since the pandemic began during the conversation. Lebedev specifically cited a lack of effective protection for children living with their families.
“There’s very few places where living with a transphobic family is actually considered child abuse,” Lebedev said. “I actually don’t think that’s considered child abuse anywhere, to my knowledge.”
When asked about what he would like to see from the Biden administration, Lebedev said he had more faith in social movements than in government for inciting significant change.
Juan Fonseca Tapia, who is the Coordinator for the Queer Unity Empowerment Support Team in Waterbury and present at the conversation, agreed, saying that hope for change rested with the community and not politicians. Tapia also claimed that some events perceived as major legislative milestones for the LGBTQ community, such as the legalization of gay marriage, advantaged only some segments of the community — particularly, gay cis men.
Tapia, who is an active military member, also spoke about the ban on trans individuals in the military instituted by former President Donald Trump. Tapia described the ban as “taking away the right from trans people to have access to employment” since the military, as Lebedev pointed out, is possibly the biggest employer for trans people in the United States. Though the ban was lifted after the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Lebedev and Tapia also called for defunding the military and diverting resources to other areas.
Tapia noted how marginalized groups often shy away from established structures of power because of the harm they have experienced in the past. However, Tapia said that LGBTQ communities and communities of color were often also pushed away from government systems supposedly meant to support them, and those in power attempted to placate them with less effective solutions through the nonprofit industrial complex.
“We are paying for those [systems], and we built those [systems], so I think that one of the things that we need to do is reclaim those systems, reclaim those entities that are already in place, and actually use them to serve our communities,” Tapia said.
According to Ochumare, one of the most important ways to support and empower LGBTQ communities is to have queer, trans and racially diverse people leading organizations. Olson said that while nonprofits absolutely deserve support, their efforts were often too difficult to sustain long-term and acted as “pressure on the wound.” For this reason, Olson advocated for greater systemic change.
Ochumare, who has experienced homelessness herself, emphasized the difficulties of getting assistance as an adult. She said she was often asked to “prove that [she] was homeless” — which she asserted contributed to the false narrative that homeless people are lazy or deserving of their situation.
The New Haven Pride Center is located at 84 Orange St.