The Ali Forney Center – the nation’s largest organization working on behalf of homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth – Wednesday held a successful “friendraiser” event at Soho’s Housing Works Book Store Café to raise awareness of the struggles faced by the city’s homeless LGBT youth. The event was hosted by Frank Selvaggi and Bill Shea, who have made a personal commitment to the Center.
The attendees included a number of noted actors and writers: Sarah Jessica Parker; Ally Sheedy; Jon Robin Baitz; Ron Rifkin; Jordan Dean; Jon Benjamin Hickey; Kathy Najimy; and Dan Finnerty. Moreover, a number of activists attended, including: Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund; Evan Wolfson, Executive Director of Freedom to Marry; Jonathan Lang of the Empire State Pride Agenda; youth of the Ali Forney Center.
Political figures present included Alphonso David, Governor Cuomo’s Deputy Secretary of Civil Rights, who praised the Ali Forney Center for their leadership in protecting and serving LGBT homeless youth, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who called on the attendees to take action to address the crisis of youth homelessness. Representatives of the Calamus Foundation, which recently contributed a $500,000 Challenge Grant to the Ali Forney Center, were also present.
Said Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center: “It was thrilling to have such a large, prominent, and diverse group of people show their support for our city’s LGBT homeless youth: leaders from organizations local and national, from Freedom to Marry to the Empire State Pride Agenda to the Victory Fund, and the celebrities lending their names to support our work. On the heels of this past Friday’s White House LGBT Conference on Homelessness and Housing, we hope the time is finally coming when local, state and federal governments are taking the needed action to increase resources for homeless LGBT youth, and when our movement will make this a priority.”
Said Selvaggi and Shea: “We are honored to have been able to host such an amazing event for Carl and the Ali Forney Center. They do invaluable work, and we are lucky to be a part of the effort to raise funds for and awareness of AFC’s critical work and the issues that LGBT homeless youth face. We see the issue of LGBT youth homelessness as the next front line in the battle for LGBT equality.”
Last night’s event emphasized the need for government action to address the crisis of youth homelessness. A census released in 2008 by the Empire State Coalition found that almost 4000 youths must go without shelter each night in New York. LGBT youths make up 40 percent of this population, and face far greater risks of violence, sexual assault, drug use, HIV infection, and suicide than their straight counterparts as they struggle to survive on the streets without shelter. These youths make up a disproportionate percentage due to so many being rejected by their families because of their sexual orientations and gender identities.
Nonetheless, New York State recently cut its funding for youth shelter beds by 50 percent, despite the fact that the existing beds are only enough to serve a tiny percentage of this population; from 2010 to 2011, the Ali Forney Center’s waiting list grew over 40 percent to nearly 200 youths. In response to this crisis, the Ali Forney Center and a number of allied organizations have launched the Campaign for Youth Shelter. This initiative calls on New York City and State to back an additional $3 million in annual funding, set aside to create 100 new shelter beds every year.