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    Voices of LGBTQ Refugees from Trump’s America

    By Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis

    Many of us felt the sting of Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States and feared how it would affect our lives.  But as San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy reminded us at a hearing he convened last week on youth homelessness in the city, Trump’s election has already become a matter of “life and death” for some LGBTQ young people. Such was the case for D. Andrew Porter, a queer youth living in rural western Kentucky when Trump was elected, and who soon thereafter fled to San Francisco with a friend for safety. D. Andrew—who uses the pronoun “they”—shared their story and spoke of the desperate need for better services for homeless youth in powerful testimony they delivered at the hearing.

    D. Andrew described how since Trump’s election last November, “threats of violence have drastically increased. A dear friend of mine living in Cookeville, Tennessee, had her car vandalized [and] set on fire … . [S]he was hospitalized after being assaulted.  And the realities set in. And my mother said, ‘If you stay here, you will die. Go.’”

    So D. Andrew and a friend went—driving 2,327 miles in two days to San Francisco. D. Andrew, who is 25 years old and has been doing LGBTQ organizing in rural areas since the age of 15, never intended to leave Kentucky for San Francisco. “[B]eing a Southerner and living in Kentucky, all my life people have said: Move to California, move to New York City, move to these big urban spaces. And there you will find open arms and love and affirmation, the things that you are seeking here that we simply cannot provide you.” But D. Andrew “spent many years advocating against that. I’ll be quite frank about it: San Francisco was never where I thought I would end up.” With Trump’s election, D. Andrew felt they no longer had a choice.

    Porter is not alone in fleeing to San Francisco, and they warn of potentially greater numbers of LGBTQ youth coming in the future. “The reality is that the refugees of Trump America are going to be younger and younger. Queer youth are coming out sooner and sooner. Trans youth are beginning to transition faster and faster.”

    Although D. Andrew found “coming to California … really exciting and liberating,” they didn’t exactly find the “open arms” they had heard about. “Getting to California and … specifically being here in San Francisco, a new set of obstacles were thrown at my feet.” They, like many other homeless youth, found navigating the system to find youth services and housing extremely difficult—“barriers and barriers and barriers … to navigate.” Supervisor Sheehy described how D. Andrew “couch surfed among friends, but eventually ended up living in a cold, unheated industrial garage” before getting a studio apartment they share with two other people.

    D. Andrew acknowledged how fortunate they are compared to many other youth because they “had some income saved up” and a network. They didn’t succeed by themselves. “My story is a common one, but my successes are not. And that’s the harsh truth.”  Many homeless youth “feel trapped in a cage of circumstances.”

    D. recounted that one day “I was in the Castro and I gave money to a 16-year-old queer youth from Iowa and sat down with her and talked about her story and promised her that the reality is that even in the hardest of times you can do anything for a year … . And … the saddest truth I’ve ever had to say is that if you can’t make it [here] in a year, you probably should move back to less safe spaces, because I’d rather see you move into a more conservative area … than living in California, this space where we talk often about how [many] resources we have and how much we care deeply for these individuals, but … if you are living on the streets, how accessible are those resources to you?”

    As Supervisor Sheehy set forth at the hearing, as of 2015, “the city’s point and time count identified 1,569 homeless youth on the street or in shelters,” and that is “probably an undercount.” Nearly half, 48 percent, identify as LGBTQ, and 13 percent are HIV positive. Numerous people who have been working in the field for years spoke at the hearing and identified many steps to take, such as opening navigation centers and drop in centers and providing housing and access to health care to improve the lives of homeless youth. They pointed to the fact that data shows that targeted programs work. Everyone pointed to the lack of financial resources.

    As we listened to D. Andrew’s voice as an LGBTQ refugee from Trump’s America, we were above all struck by their strength, compassion, and desire to help others. For years, these qualities have sustained LGBTQ people from all walks of life in the face of myriad challenges. Those of us who have better living conditions than homeless youth are not separate from those of us on the street. We owe it to each other to end the scourge of Trump’s America and to demonstrate as much strength and courage in supporting LGBTQ youth as the youth themselves have shown.

    As Supervisor Sheehy concludes, “We talk about refugees from other places in the world, and certainly we have to be a haven for people from other places in the world. But we have an internal refugee problem, specifically for LGBTQ kids, and all across America with what’s happening with Trump America.”

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.