Homeless shelters that receive federal funds won’t be able to discriminate against LGBT youth if new legislation introduced in the House is signed into law.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), one of six openly gay members of the U.S. House, introduced the legislation, known as the Runaway & Homeless Youth Act, along with Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) on Thursday.
In a statement, Pocan called passing the legislation a “moral responsibility” to ensure that LGBT homeless youth have access to “life-saving services and safe, welcoming places to stay.”
“Homelessness is one of the most pressing matters affecting LGBT youth,” Pocan said. “Young people in the LGBT community are disproportionately at-risk for homelessness, often as a result of the rejection, discrimination, or violence they face simply for being themselves.”
The bill seeks to amend the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act — which was last authorized in 2008 and is up for reauthorization this year — in key ways to make the law LGBT-inclusive.
Staff for Pocan and Moore said they hope to pass the bill as part of Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act reauthorization this year and are working with House and Senate leaders to encourage them to include the bill.
The bill would prohibit discrimination against LGBT youth at homeless shelters that receive federal funds and require grant recipients to have the cultural competency to serve these youth. Additionally, the bill would provide resources to support services for families struggling with the sexual orientation or gender identity of their children.
Further, the Runaway & Homeless Youth Inclusion Act would require the Family & Youth Service Bureau at the Department of Health & Human Services to compile comprehensive data on the pervasiveness of the LGBT youth homelessness problem.
According to a report last year from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, LGBT youth comprise 40 percent of the clientele served by homeless shelters. The study identifies family rejection as the most heavily cited reason for LGBT youth homelessness.
In an interview with the Washington Blade last month, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin identified youth homelessness as one LGBT issue that doesn’t receive enough attention in the media, saying the issue came up on his recently completed Southern tour.
“I was talking to a number of folks in North Carolina about the homeless youth issue, and the issue of homelessness,” Griffin said. “There are a number of ways to combat that problem. One of them is direct service providing and the need for public funds to do that.”