A Life-Changing Sign: A Safe Zone for GLBT Youth Brings Hope
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Qamar is a youth counselor for Avenues For Homeless Youth in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He provides support and outreach to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) youth, as well as heterosexual youth, who are grappling with homelessness and lack of family acceptance. He shares his personal experiences of searching for a home and acceptance of his gender identity with the HRC’s Wendy Grace Evans.
“To keep myself safe, I had to leave,” explains Qamar. In 1998, Qamar was living with his grandmother. When she passed away, Qamar and his brothers went to live with their uncle in Orange County, California. This proved to be very difficult for Qamar, who was born female and was transitioning to male. “If my uncle had his way, I would have stayed living in his home either until I was married or twenty-one.”
Qamar’s brother had been kicked out of the home for cross-dressing. Qamar understood that his own gender identity was not acceptable to his uncle.
“I decided that I would leave California and travel to Minnesota to live with my mom. My mom is bisexual and totally accepting of me.” But his uncle would not allow him to go live with his mother, so Qamar made his own arrangements to leave on the night of his high school graduation. He packed a duffle bag and hid it in his brother’s car. When his brother arrived to pick him up from a graduation party, Qamar opened the trunk to retrieve his belongings. At the same moment, his ride share arrived. Qamar bid his surprised brother goodbye. “I hugged him and said, ‘I tell you what man… I love you so much, but I have to leave. I am not going to get beat up at home, and I am not going to get beat up on the streets in L.A. I’m sorry dude. I love you and I’ll call you.”
While Qamar’s mother was accepting of his gender identity, she could not offer him a stable home. “My mother had addiction issues. While she led me to believe that she was okay, things were not okay.” Qamar worked full-time to help pay the rent, but the money he gave to his mother never made it to the landlord. “I came home from work one day and learned that we were being evicted. We owed $2,000 in back rent. She was so blitzed that she didn’t even believe me. She was so wrapped up in her addiction. She stayed with other people, but they were all using and I couldn’t tolerate the violence and shootings. It was constant insanity. Meanwhile, I was trying to work and go to school,” explains Qamar.
He had nowhere to go. Starting at age 17, Qamar was homeless for nearly two years. “I lived on the streets for a while. I didn’t know anyone, so I lived in the train yards and truck lots in St. Paul. I would sleep in the cabs of old trucks.” During this time, Qamar worked full-time as a manager at a fast food restaurant, arriving every morning at 6 am to open the doors.
As Qamar left work one day, he walked by an organization called Safe Zone and recognized a rainbow flag in the window. He approached Safe Zone with caution. He was only accustomed to negative responses to his gender identity. The rainbow flag turned out to be a life-changing sign of hope. It led him to the GLBT Host Home Program for Homeless Youth.
“They hooked me up with a therapist and a case manager. They offered me counseling, anger management therapy, and introduced me to the GLBT Host Home Program,” says Qamar. The GLBT Host Home is a grassroots program in Minnesota that recruits, screens, trains, and supports adults who open their homes to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) young people ages 16 to 21 in need of safe and stable housing. At first, he had a hard time understanding why adults would want to welcome him into their homes after so many years of living with adults who could not or would not take care of him.
Qamar was initially placed with a family that gave him temporary housing until he was invited to live with another family, where he stayed over the course of a seven-year period. “They loved that I was working. They helped me to set goals, get a bank account, continue with therapy, and get into college. I learned a lot about financial skills and living skills.” After transitioning out of the program, Qamar struggled to find his own apartment. He had no rental history and was rejected by multiple landlords. Eventually, he ended up in another host home where he contributes part of the rent.
Today, at the age of 27, Qamar works for Avenues For Homeless Youth as a youth counselor. Drawing on his own personal experiences, he provides support and outreach to GLBT and heterosexual youth who are experiencing homelessness. Qamar speaks regularly to funders about the GLBT Host Home Program and his own story of overcoming multiple obstacles. He owns a house with his partner and hopes to return to school to finish his bachelor’s degree. “My grandmother always said that success is the best revenge, so I just carry on,” says Qamar. His mother is currently in recovery and living in California. He communicates regularly with her and with his siblings.
To learn more about resources related to LBGTQI2-S youth who are homeless, visit the HRC LBGTQI2-S Youth Topic Page
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