Egale’s Out at Night campaign asks participants to sleep outside on the night of Saturday, May 30, to experience a slice of the hardships endured by over 6,000 LGBT youth each year across the country.
“I’m horrified that any parent would kick their child out for coming out to them. I fear for the safety of anyone who is homeless, especially LGBT youth,” says legendary singer Carole Pope.
Pope is just one of many celebrities who have become involved with Out At Night. People who join the campaign sleep outside in community spaces, in their backyards or on patios, with funds being raised through sponsorships and pledges.
Among the stars and notables who have become involved are Scott Thompson, Rick Mercer, Thomas Mulcair and Peaches. Canadian actress Ali Liebert has become a celebrity ambassador for the campaign, and says participating in the project was a no-brainer, considering her personal connection with queer homeless youth.
“Discrimination based on sexuality has been experienced first hand in my birth family and in my chosen family. I have a huge network of queer friends who all have coming out stories, some good and some bad,” Liebert says. “People I know and love have spent time living on the streets due to their sexual preferences and gender identities. The non-profit sector and the general public need more information on how to best help folks who have had to leave unsafe home environments so that we don’t lose them to drugs and violence.”
Egale has a goal of fundraising $10 million over the next five years to help implement a national strategy to combat homelessness experienced by LGBT youth. According to research conducted by the organization, over 20 percent of homeless youth in Canada identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans or two-spirit, and access to housing services and resources is scarce.
Liebert says the homelessness crisis is a critical call to action and that raising funds is the first step to finding a solution.
“Housing is a basic human right and there should be housing for all people regardless of their sexuality, race [or] socioeconomic status. There is more than enough money in Canada to ensure everyone has safe housing. This campaign is a call to action for Canadians to spread the message of this crisis and assist in its solution. These kids need us — desperately.”
Helen Kennedy, executive director for Egale, says the driving forces behind LGBT youth homelessness are complex and varied. Trans youth constitute a large number of those accessing Egale’s crisis-counselling centre.
“While I think the high cost of housing is a factor, there are many, many factors that contribute to why our youth are on the street,” Kennedy says. “But certainly, family rejection is one of the keys to why our youth are on the streets. We have a lot of immigration and asylum seekers in Toronto and we have a very high amount of trans youth accessing our crisis counselling centre as well.”