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Comprised of first-hand accounts of queer people pushed out of their homes into the mean streets of the USA to fend for themselves, Kicked Out is a distinct, important book. It combines auto-ethnographic narratives of survivors with accounts from social workers and policy makers who lay bare the gaps in services and care, as well as the innovation and creativity of this population.
Since the days before Stonewall, queer youth have been known to grab a one way ticket to the coasts to find a new life. For many the challenge is just to to survive. Once in San Francisco or New York, Portland or Boston, they cope the best they can. In June 1969, these youth were among those who initiated the riots which kicked off gay liberation. But just as common are the queer youth who find themselves in a tenuous place in between foster care and violence: the streets, with their constant threat of physical assault. The accounts of residents of Sylvia’s Place, a shelter for queer youth in New York City named after one the veterans of the Stonewall uprising, offer a glimpse into such world. They highlight the ways residents make do in an often unfriendly world.
The work’s benedictory approach is a breath of fresh air, as far too many accounts of this population emphasize the gaps in care, homophobia in foster care, and the lack of beds for queer youth. While the essays in Kicked Out acknowledge these challenges, the work emphasizes coping and resiliency. For example, “The Circus Project: Getting Youth off the Ground” an essay by Jenn Cohen, describes a model of service provision which rejects paternalism in favor of cultivating individual creative expression.
Standout essays include: “Dumpster Diving, Gay Skinheads, Boredom and Violence” by Tenzin, as well as “My New Nuclear Family” by Philiop Reeves, “Will Exchange Wisdom for Shelter, Food, and Love” by Mx Mirage, and “the hayop Ka! Chronicles” in which kay ulanday barrett emphasizes transformative power of stories, confessing she, “lives each day gloriously fueled by the words of Tim Robbins, ‘Its never too late to have a happy childhood,’” (218).
The reports by service providers and analysts summarize their work in a narrative format. “While the lack of federal and state dedicated funds for critical shelter, services and housing for homeless youth must be addressed, the social crisis of LGBT youth homelessness will not be solved by increased funding alone,” argues youth policy analyst Richard Hoods Wayman. “Relationships transform people. Change happens when caring adults give their time to build safe relationships with homeless youth and offer a chance for youth to believe in themselves and lead lives with greater self determination.”
Yet, as the essays, such as “Sanctuary in the Attic” by Stephanie Morris and “The Psychic Cheese grater: What I Learned in the Streets” by Tenzin suggest, queer youth must primarily rely on their own networks for survival, not service providers. Here, youth look to each other for a place to sleep, a little support, a meal, or the “Kindness of Strangers, Vampires, and Angelic Crack Whores” Tenzin describes. It is the dreams and stories, the imagination which keeps them going. Kicked Out offers a useful service in highlighting these perspectives.
Edited by Sassafras Lowrey
Forward by Judy Shepard
Paperback, $20, 224p
Lambda previously covered Sassafras Lowrey and “Kicked Out” in its article Discarded Teens.