Welcome–And Not So Welcome

Giant letters on the Cleveland Public Library form a welcome banner for Gay Games 9. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Giant letters on the Cleveland Public Library form a welcome banner for Gay Games 9. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Cleveland has rolled out the welcome mat—or at least giant signs and big banners—for Gay Games 2014.

Presented by the Cleveland Foundation, the week-long athetic games will attract approximately 8,000 participants from more than 50 countries and 48 states, plus Washington, D.C. All told, about 20,000 to 40,000 people will gather in Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding suburbs to take part in sports, cheer on athletes, and participate in additional activities and events.

As far as numbers go, the games are not as big as the 2016 Republican Convention is expected to be. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty huge event, and lots of local volunteers are greeting visitors, giving tours, helping with directions and registration, and performing other tasks. My guess is that the participants and their families and friends will feel they are indeed welcome by the cities.

Contrast this with the plight of LGBT homeless and missing youth.

Situations vary greatly from person to person, Dan Hansen told me at Bellefaire JCB’s exhibit booth in the registration hall yesterday. He’s a case manager for the organization’s homeless and missing youth and street outreach program. He also mans the hotline several days a week.

Sadly, some parents abuse their children—straight or LGBT.

However, over 50 percent of the overall clientele have behavioral issues, Hansen noted. Teens often wrestle with depression, anger, and other issues too. Whether the client is straight or LGBT, Hansen and other staff work to deal with the problems.

In some of those cases, conflicted feelings about sexual identity could aggravate those issues.

“Twenty-five to 30 percent of our clientele struggle with sexual identity issues,” Hansen told me, He bases that estimate on his own experience, although some national statistics place the number as high as 40 percent.

Even when teens know their sexual identity, family members may not accept it. Hansen told me about one very extroverted young man who “was out and proud.” He’d gotten into some trouble with the law and was no longer welcome at home with his grandmother.

“I tried to reason with Grandma to accept him back in the home,” Hansen said, “and she was willing—as long as he didn’t throw his gayness in her face.” After lots of work to help her see how extroverted the grandson was, she finally agreed to let him come home.

In another case, a girl’s behavior problems were so serious that she could be considered “criminogenic.” Yet as Hansen saw it, her adoptive parents seemed to mind more that she was gay.

Both teens are now over 18—and thus out of Bellefaire JCB’s program. Yet many more straight and LGBT youth continue to face the harsh reality of homelessness. And the Bellefaire JCB program—and others like it in other cities—struggle to do what they can in crisis situations.

“We’re a temporary bandaid,” Hansen said.


NOTE: Bellefaire JCB’s hotline for homeless and missing youth is 1-216-570-8010.

For help in areas outside the Cleveland area, teens can contact groups such as Covenant House or call the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY.


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