It’s Pride Month and the many colors on display in June hold a special place of reverence at Stepping Stones, because the month celebrates an attitude of acceptance that we firmly believe in. The youth who come to Stepping Stones–many of whom are members of the LGBTQ+ community– learn quickly that this is a judgment-free, safe place where they will be treated with respect for the person they wish to be and rooted for every step of the way as they work to live with dignity and pride in who they are. Whatever their pronouns, whomever they love, they belong here.
Lily belongs here. As a trans woman, she struggled with an unsupportive family. “It’s like they were allergic to learning new things…to accepting me.” Though she has been trans her whole life, she only recently felt comfortable opening up to others. Navigating the different agencies in our area, she was refreshed by the welcoming atmosphere of Stepping Stones. “I never had to question if I would be accepted here. I’ve never been given a reason not to just be myself.” For most of her adult life she has agonized over such questions every time she enters a new environment, and wishes that more places would make her as comfortable letting her guard down. At Stepping Stones, the worst she says she has to deal with is other youth who confuse her gender, but she has become comfortable educating them. “I have no problem stepping up and speaking out for the people who are afraid to say anything.”
Stella belongs here. Despite facing prolonged difficulty in finding housing, she has worked hard to get steady hours at a new job and has managed to stay in an emergency shelter longer than expected by building a reputation as a model resident, even putting in extra time to help clean. People who meet Stella don’t need to know her long to understand that she has an infectious sense of humor and a resilient work ethic. But a lot of people who meet Stella do not know or recognize her gender identity. She only feels comfortable sharing her pronouns with those she knows will understand. To her, gender status is just one more hurdle to finding housing, and she dreams of a day when she can afford her own place and can live to her fullest potential as her truest self.
Addy belongs here. Like Lily and Stella, Addy has had to overcome abuse and a denial of their identity from people who are supposed to be looking out for their best interest. A recent encounter with a protestor rattled Addy, but did not shake their resolve to live with positivity and pride. All who meet them find a person full of humor, love, and colorful stories. They are an exemplary tenant and worker, and anyone who comes into Stepping Stones on a day they are here is treated like family.
These stories add color to a picture that statistics have already traced. The University of Chicago’s nationally renowned Chapin Hall program that studies adversity and homelessness identified LGBTQ+ youth as 120% more likely to become homeless. At Stepping Stones, 15% of the homeless youth are members of the LGBTQ+ community, compared to an average of 4.7% throughout the state as projected by Gallup/Williams polling for 2019. At a recent group event, youth were asked what they believed to be one of the most common causes of homelessness, and many agreed that far too many homeless youth start out by fleeing a living situation that did not respect their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Alex, one of our youth, shared her perspective. “I am a part of the LGBT community, so I can say whole-heartedly that one of the reasons we go homeless is to get out of a toxic environment. It is because there are family members who either don’t understand what it means to have basic human rights or don’t agree with your sexual orientation and gender, whatever you are. I know people, close friends, who are forced to go homeless because their family members refuse to understand or refuse to let it go. I know family members who have been discriminated upon and wound up homeless. I have a person in my family who is anti-LGBT and refuses to acknowledge or understand what it means to be A, B, and C. For me, it hurts, because you have to get out of that situation, even though you don’t want to deep down. It’s one of the biggest reasons why LGBT kids go out and become homeless or couch surf or live with other people or family members is because they don’t want to get hurt physically or mentally.”
One of the most significant services we offer every day is a simple outlet for the youth to express themselves. Like Alex, they vent their frustrations or talk through their hopes and fears. Not a single moment spent listening to a youth in need is wasted time; lending an ear provides them with faster satisfaction than many of our other services and allows them to decompress enough to readjust their sails. This technique seems particularly effective with LGBTQ+ youth, who more than others desire to be listened to.
On behalf of Stepping Stones, we would like to wish you a nth. We hope you’ll join us at the Nashua Pride Festival at 2pm on Saturday, June 25th at Nashua Public Library. Stepping Stones will proudly represent as an ally and advocate for our youth with a table set up, and we look forward to sharing some face time with the community. Ask us about our youth and their success, and we will tell you the stories that make us all proud.