Guardian Voices: A harsh city for queer youth


By Mia Tumutch

I moved to San Francisco at 19, having recently escaped small-town Texas because of ignorance and hatred associated with the fact that I am transsexual. I arrived on a Greyhound with a huge purse, a duffle bag, and big dreams for the queer wonderland.

Then life happened. Unable to find a job because I was too visibly trans, I ran out of money and ended up homeless.

Thousands of other young queers have runa way to San Francisco, but they still face daunting statistics once they arrive. Our city by the Bay has long been assumed a safe haven for the gays — however there's more work to be done. It's our responsibility, as San Franciscans and decent human beings, to ensure LGBTQ youth don't face more violence and discrimination once they make it here.

LGBTQ youth face a disproportionate amount of obstacles to success, including bullying in school, family rejection, violence on the street, and job discrimination. After coming out of the closet, 26 percent of LGBTQ youth are kicked out of their homes by their parents. While LGBTQ youth account for only 5-10 percent of the population, we represent 40 percent of the homeless youth in San Francisco. The number of LGBTQ youth coming out and becoming homeless continues to increase, while funding for services to this very vulnerable population is cut back almost every budget season.

There are more than 94,000 LGB people living in San Francisco and approximately 6,000 LGBTQ youth, but there is still not a single queer homeless shelter. There are currently 36,000 vacant housing units in San Francisco, and only 6,000 homeless people; why can't homeless people live there?

In recent years there have been a number of policy changes that have made life harder for the homeless. In 2010, proposition L, passed making it illegal to sit or lie on a sidewalk between 7am and 11pm. This law further demonizes homeless people who can be hit with $500 fines and even a month in jail for accessing public space.

In 2011, Scott Weiner, an out gay politician representing Harvey Milk's former district, implemented a harsh new policy even further criminalizing homeless people in the Castro. This law makes sleeping, camping, cooking, creating a shelter, and using a four-wheel shopping cart all illegal at all times in Jane Warner and Harvey Milk plazas. The law goes further to ban the selling or bartering of merchandise without a permit.

In the 1970s, a similar sit-lie law in San Francisco was used to unjustly harass gay men. Harvey Milk crusaded against these laws until he was killed — and now the plaza named after him has the harshest sit-lie law in the city, and it's driving LGBTQ youth out of the Castro.

"My queer friends are leaving the city because they feel run out of the Castro," explains a homeless youth and active ally in the LGBTQ community. "We get harassed by cops at least three times a day, when we aren't harming anyone at all. I was told by a police officer that me sitting on the benches in the Castro community was disrespectful of the hardworking people of the neighborhood. Then she told me to get a job."

It's our duty as citizens of a supposed sanctuary city to not turn a blind eye on the plight of homeless people, and especially not LGBTQ homeless youth. Let's repeal sit-lie laws and stop cutting desperately needed funds for LGBTQ youth. Let's create a shelter for LGBTQ people, and establish a permanent source of funds to make housing affordable for everyone. The solution to ending homelessness is not to increase criminalization and harassment; we need to expand our consciousness and compassion.


who have a low probability of being happy and prosperous here, the focus should on making other places more hospitable to gays and trannies, so that they don't need to come here in the first place?

The idea that SF is a place that will take anyone and everyone who has a problem or issue has already led to an unmangeable problem with homelessness, and related problems of drugs and crimes. Making it ever more tempting for come here when there is no reasonable chance of success doesn't seem to most voters to be a high priority.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 11:50 am

I'm sorry, you'll have to take a number and get in line behind all the other special-interest groups. Thank you.

SFBG, can you just call "Guardian Voices" what it is, please: "Barely literate writers we don't have to pay."

And come on, Tim, no stories about Stockton, Mammoth Lakes, San Bernardino? These are (were) hotbeds of Tim-onomics!

Posted by Chromefields on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

Stockton, Mammoth and San Bernardino are all hotbeds of conservatism, not "profligate" leftist havens.

Mammoth went bankrupt because they tried to undo a developer entitlement and got sued into bankruptcy by the developer. Roberto's Mexican food on Old Mammoth road seriously rates, FYI.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 7:50 pm

They're still broke. Viva California!

Posted by Chromefields on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 5:58 am

Most states are mopping up red ink after Wall Street gambled and lost and then pinned the losses on the rest of us.

You are right, this is not a liberal or conservative matter, it is one where prudent governments were hung out to dry in order to make the banksters whole.

The entirety of fiscal mismanagement being the province of liberalism and social insurance is therefore, false.

Pensions are a good thing, health care is a good thing, living wages are good things. It is the implicit socialism of the trillion dollar losses by finance capital that is the problem, especially when finance capital's "good bet" profits are privatized.

The more these issues are kicked down the road, the more the problems will fester and the more significant the punctuation of equilibrium will be.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 7:33 am

was the government which allowed this to happen on their watch. Everything comes back to politicians in the end, and that comes back to us because we elected them.

And we wanted cheap mortgages and escalating house prices, and were happy to have no questions asked until the bubble burst.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 8:04 am

"I was told by a police officer that me sitting on the benches in the Castro community was disrespectful of the hardworking people of the neighborhood. Then she told me to get a job."

What an idiot! That piece of work cop is in the wrong job. She should never have said that to you or anyone else. Disgusting.

"Let's repeal sit-lie laws"

Considering the direction this city is going in (to the right), that's not going to happen, unfortunately.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

who appear to be loitering with malintent. It only takes a complaint by a business or bystander.

The best protection against police interest is to be busy and not "hang out" with menace.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

bumming cigarettes, panhandling for spare change and trying to score drugs IS disrespectful to the people who pay to live in that neighborhood.

Let's be honest about what your friend was really doing - she wasn't stopping for a little rest in between her 9-5 job.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

"Scott Weiner, an out gay politician"

Is he really gay? I know he says he is, but I'm beginning to wonder. I've never seen him with a guy. He's always alone when I've seen him. To me he comes across as asexual. Is he gay, or is he just using/working the conservative gay "community" for his conservative agenda?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

Would being straight somehow make him less credible, in your mind?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

What a stupid thing to say. Yes he is gay, not everyone that is gay in SF is skulking around sex clubs having 8 anonymous partners a night.

To me, you come across as an idiot.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

you have no credibility unless you're homeless, jobless, non-straight, miserable, uneducated, preferably here illegally, and your idea of a meaningful day is squatting on the sidewalk smelling badly and pouting provocatively at passers-by.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

This is a great article, Mia. Thank you for making the connection between the criminalization and police harassment of homeless folks & poor people, and the daily violence and oppression faced by LGBTQ youth. This is a classic example of the grittier side of gentrification; and these are times when we would all do well to keep in mind the structural and systemic injustices produced by state repression that is patently engineered to protect only the interests of wealth and property.

Don't pay any mind to smugly soulless asshats like Chromefields there. Your article lays bare a profound problem in terms that are beautifully simple, humble, logical and compassionate. Moreover, your sentiment is thoughtful and sincere. When you display a heart so big and beautiful, you can't help but invoke the intense resentment of those whose humanity was swallowed up and lost in the gaping black hole in their chests long ago. Leave them to their self-righteous sarcasm and secret self-loathing. Thanks for sharing your words and ideas.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

Homelessness is caused by people coming to SF who lack the skills, education, ability and work ethic to earn enough to afford housing in one of the most expensive cities on the planet.

It's not about being gay or TS/TG or colored. Lots of straight white kids want the "SF lifestyle" as well, but they cannot afford it. You see them around Haight St. all the time.

If you move to a city that is too expensive for your job and earning skills, then you're going to be miserable. Not everyone has the fiscal power to live in Aruba, Monaco, Aspen or Switzerland either. It's called reality.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 8:37 am

large cities like NY and Boston are "hostile" to GLBT youth too - simply on the basis that she cannot afford an apartment here or find a job which demands no skill set other than an appreciation for queerness?

Newsflash sister - get used to it.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

subsidize her lifestyle choices if she can't afford it herself?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

It has not been easy for queers to seek refuge here since the 1980s. All of us who fled the heartland had to make significant sacrifices to leave all of that and stake a claim here.

But I'm not seeing of violence and oppression against queers here, rather a city that has no place for the poor irrespective of queer status.

The Oppression Olympics plays in a minority of a minority of activists. Yet that is the messaging we keep on hearing. For the rest of us who are not in with that minority of a minority of activists, it is not always all about the poorest and most marginalized.

Even saying that it is not all about the most vulnerable is tantamount to saying that it is not at all about the most vulnerable in the eyes of the Oppression Olympians.

Almost always speaking about things that have no connection to most people is how movements cut themselves off from relevance with "the people" This is why these movements are unable to gain support in the queer, poor or broader progressive and liberal communities.

Yes, it is difficult to move here, it is difficult to establish a toehold here and it is difficult to stay here unless you are rich. Not everyone makes it. This city is no more hostile to un-rich queers than it is to the un-rich in general.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 7:59 pm

and then proceed to lecture us on Harvey Milk, what San Francisco USED to be and how we should proceed to make it the city THEY want it to be so they're more comfortable here.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

Mia Tumutch,

Thank you for your article, and please ignore all the smug hate. There is so much hate out there and online as you probably know and it seems to be getting worse and worse. It can really get one down. It's sickening. I don't know how the Guardian staff puts up with it. That's all that some come on here to do is hate, because that's all they know. They must have really miserable and pathetic lives to be such sours constantly. And they can't bear to hear the name Harvey Milk mentioned (possibly because they can't stand anything he stood for?). Ciao.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 3:50 am

homeless, unemployed youth, whatever their sexual orientation. It's not "hate" to see that SF can't be a destination for anyone who feels a little different somewhere else. It's not "hate" to express concern about the cost to this city of having a large underclass here.

People who see hate where there is none are projecting.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 7:26 am