On 40 Years of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act: Politics Shouldn’t Matter

Oct 2014

By: Cyndi Lauper

Today, I was in Washington, D.C. to talk about an issue that should matter to all of us.

I was there to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), our nation’s only federal law that specifically funds vital services for homeless youth. I was also there to advocate for RHYA’s reauthorization at a time when these young people need us to stand with them more than ever.

Like anything, RHYA has room for improvement and can do much more to address homelessness among our nation’s youth, and among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth in particular.

This has been a passion of mine for quite a while. No young person deserves to be homeless, and no young person deserves to be kicked out simply for coming out. That’s why I started the True Colors Fund, the country’s only national organization dedicated to addressing homelessness among LGBT youth.

Research suggests that while LGBT youth make up to seven percent of the general youth population, they comprise up to 40 percent of the 1.6 million youth that are homeless in this country each year. Think about that.

And consider that the most frequently cited factor contributing to LGBT youth homelessness is family rejection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. All too often, these kids are placed in an unthinkable situation: run away or be forced out. And when they are, these youth are more likely than their straight peers to suffer from depression, be bullied in school, attempt suicide, use drugs, and experience or witness extreme forms of violence.

This is a crisis. The need to ensure that LGBT homeless youth can benefit equally from the protections, programs, and services made possible by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act could not be greater.

Thankfully, our nation’s leaders are taking note – and taking action.

Recently, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced legislation to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. It’s called the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA).

RHYTPA recognizes the needs of all youth, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth experiencing homelessness. The legislation has already cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee by a strong bipartisan vote and is headed to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Importantly, RHYTPA includes a non-discrimination clause that will help ensure LGBT homeless youth not only have access to critical services, but also that those services are safe, welcoming, and better tailored to meet their unique needs.

I am not a politician. But here’s what I do know about politics: when it comes to homeless youth, and those that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in particular, we should just do the right thing. Politics simply shouldn’t matter.

Let your voice be heard. Tell Facebook and Twitter that politics shouldn’t matter, and check out the full panel discussion here. It’s time to #EndYouthHomelessness.