Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth experiencing homelessness must be engaged in the creation of solutions to address LGBTQ youth homelessness. Lived experience generates a kind of knowledge not available through formal education and training. The ways in which youth are invited to participate are important, and it’s up to the adults working with them to be intentional, communicative, and aware as these partnerships are formed. Historically, youth experiencing homelessness may have been taken advantage of and tokenized in multiple ways. Youth are often asked to share their stories on panels, in the media, or at fundraising events. Though well-intentioned, these kinds of opportunities are limiting - they rarely include the young person’s ideas for impacting change and the young person may be re-traumatized by their experience. People have used their experiences with no exchange of information or services. Authentic youth engagement is about more than inviting a young person to share their past experiences; it’s also about providing the space for them to share their vision for the future.
Authentic youth engagement is sometimes hindered by ageism and/or adultism. This happens when youth and young people are presumed to lack knowledge or experience and are dismissed because of their age. Engaging youth authentically and effectively requires one to flip this idea on its head. A great example of this is through language. For example, be mindful of referring to youth as “kids” because this term can undermine young people and the knowledge and experience they bring. Also, be intentional about the decision-making power that youth have in your work. Asking questions such as, “In what ways do youth directly impact decisions in your organization?” or “In what ways are youth a part of generating solutions?” can keep you accountable to the young people you are working with. Youth are the experts of their own truth. As an adult partner, it is your responsibility not to speak for a young person, rather to elevate their voice in a way that is empowering.
LGBTQ youth who have experienced homelessness or housing instability may mistrust adults due to several factors, including rejection and abuse. Engaging LGBTQ youth in the work of your organization in the wrong way can perpetuate their resistance to seeking services or participating in LGBTQ youth homelessness advocacy. True youth engagement is about partnership and collaboration. When asking young people to be involved in your work, hear them out and build a reciprocal relationship where you honor their experiences, allowing their experiences and ideas to inform the process.
The True Colors Fund is a national organization that works to end homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. Through collaborating with youth, the True Colors Fund we provide young people with leadership development opportunities that help solidify their advocacy skills, so they can play an active role in being part of the solution.
Twiggy Pucci-Garcon, Senior Program Officer, True Colors Fund
Fred Kingston, Director of Youth Programs, The Mockingbird Society
- Authentic youth engagement is about providing the space for young people to share their vision for the future.
- Lived experience generates a kind of knowledge not available through formal education and training.
- Be mindful of ageism and adultism and their impact on effective youth engagement.
- True youth engagement is about partnership and collaboration
- Be intentional about the decision-making power that youth have in your work.
Effectively Engaging and Working with Youth and Young Adults