Kicked Out. Sassafras Lowrey. Michigan: Homofactus Press L.L.C., 2010. 222pp.
Kicked Out is an anthology of the stories of current and formerly homeless LGBTQ individuals. Each person was forced to leave their home due to family neglect, homophobia, hostility or violence. This is an important book about an invisible minority of children who are being largely abused by the foster care, homeless shelter and legal system. Reading Kicked Out will bring you to tears and inspire you to act.
Kicked Out was dreamed up and edited by Sassafras Lowrey, someone who has experienced firsthand the problem of LGBT homelessness in youth. She states in her introduction that she “wanted to pin down [homeless LGBT youth] lives, wanted their dreams to be remembered.” This book ultimately began when she was kicked out of her own home and tried to find resources at her local library to help guide her in her situation. She was at a loss to find anything helpful. “This was the first time a library had failed me…I needed a book to prove to me that survival was possible.” After that day it was always in the back of Sassafras’ mind that she wanted to one day create something that would give homeless LGBT youth if not hope, at least the assurance that they were not alone.
Kicked Out starts with a poignant call to action by Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard. She calls on parents and community members alike to reach out to LGBTQ youth before they are lost. She encourages us tell them that they matter and they are loved. To accept them, no matter who or what they are. The reader is then drawn into the accounts of 33 LGBTQ individuals and supporters who tell us of homelessness by way of prose, poetry, photos and text messages.
Tenzin, a transman, tells us about his chosen family, a group of LGBT youth in similar situations who tried to survive in various ways: some “couch-surfed” with family, some turned to drugs, some to prostitution, and still others betrayed him and others by joining Neo-Nazis and terrorizing their former friends. He tells us about turning to violence to protect himself from the horrors of rape and abuse and spending time in a mental institution. But he survived, and reveals that he is now an ordained clergyman. A Buddhist monk.
Philip, a gay man, tells us how after his devout Christian parents spent his childhood beating him for every little “sin” out of him, he was sent to conversion therapy. It caused him to hate himself because in the eyes of his church he didn’t only commit sin, he WAS sin. He finally found other LGBTQ people in college and escaped his family. He was taken in by a gay couple who taught him what family really was, but still lives in fear of his birth family hurting his adoptive fathers and taking him away.
Cupid and Dija were visitors at the homeless shelter where Sassafras Lowrey works. They tell their stories in a series of short answers to writing prompts. Cupid’s response to a family prompt is, “My family was never there, but they showed no remorse in throwing me out broke in the rain at the age of sixteen.”
Richard Wayman, Senior Youth Policy Analyst at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, is next and shares with the reader several of his thoughts on combatting homelessness in LGBTQ youth. Visibility and studies to show us were our numbers and energies could be most useful are some of his suggestions, along with a gentle warning, “LGBTQ adults have the opportunity to reflect on their own behaviors and consumption patterns by not supporting businesses or venues that encourage the sexual exploitation of youth through erotic dancing, escort services or prostitution.”
Jenn Cohen is a woman who started an organization called The Circus Project that helps teach homeless LGBTQ youth life skills by developing their “physical and emotional integrity by providing intensive skill training in circus and performing arts”. Their program even has a place for successful students in a permanent performing group that provides education, room, board and career opportunities.
KJP is a native of Sri Lanka who immigrated to the United States with his family as a child. He is a transman, but is still trying to be a girl for his family. While in this state of mind he has sex with his boyfriend, becomes pregnant, and has an abortion all without the knowledge of his mother. When he is eventually outed to her she threatens to kill him. He later finds a homeless shelter and finishes school, reuniting with his father after his top surgery.
Stephanie Mannis works in an LGBTQ homeless shelter called The Attic Youth Center. She recounts the stories five youth who have come through her doors, how they came to be homeless, its effects on their world outlooks and how they are going about building their futures.
There are over a dozen more heart-rending stories of loss and the creation of new families. The stories close with an intelligent, well written proposal from Nick Ray of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force about the causes and effects of homelessness, and policy recommendations for empowering our youth and helping them survive being kicked out.
Kicked Out is a one of a kind, straight forward look at lives of children and teens on the street and what we can change to help them. It is told in a myriad of mediums, from narrators of all ages and backgrounds. Sassafras Lowrey has done a wonderful job of tracking down and editing these stories while helping the youth in her area. Leaving some of the stories purposefully unedited to show voice and writing style illustrated the tone of the speakers to me. I believe this is an important book that should be in every library.
Sassafras Lowrey has done an amazing job of giving back to community that saved her own life as a teen.