Ali Forney Center: A Light in the Darkness for LGBTQ Youth Experiencing Homelessness
June is LGBTQ Pride Month, and this month, Kinder Beauty is donating a portion of the proceeds from our Pride-themed Marketplace to the Ali Forney Center, an organization that has provided critical housing, food, medical care, psychiatric help, and career support to tens of thousands of LGBTQ youth who are experiencing houselessness in New York City.
In New York City, there are nearly 4,000 homeless young people. Almost half of them identify as LGBTQ.
Named for HIV activist Ali Forney, who was murdered in 1997 at the age of only 22, the Ali Forney Center has provided shelter, support, and vital services to nearly 20,000 LGBTQ youth who, rejected by their families, have become homeless.
Ali Forney’s story
Dedicated to educating other homeless youths about safer sex and HIV testing, Forney ultimately died because he was denied safe and affirming shelter due to his LGBTQ identity. As a gender nonconforming teenager, he had fled his home at the age of 13. Like so many, Forney entered the foster care system where he moved between several homes, suffering intense physical abuse. By the age of 15, he was living on the streets. Forney devoted himself to helping others, publicly advocating for the safety of homeless LGBTQ youth. In 1997, he was found murdered in Harlem. His death gave rise to a movement that strives to protect and provide for young people like him.
A safe and affirming place
With a mission to save the lives of homeless LGBTQ youth, in 2002 Carl Siciliano founded the Ali Forney Center (AFC) in memory of Ali Forney. The organization that began with only six beds in a church has now grown into the largest agency dedicated to LGBTQ homeless youths in the United States, providing for more than 2,000 young people in New York City each year. The organization offers care and support through a 24-hour Drop-In Center that serves more than 70,000 meals each year, medical and mental health services through an on-site clinic, and housing at various sites.
About homeless youth
LGBTQ young people become homeless after having been forced from their homes by their parents. 90 percent of AFC’s clients report that homophobia or transphobia rooted in religious beliefs were the reason their families rejected them. At other shelters they are met with physical abuse, homophobia, and violence. At AFC, they receive the physical, psychological, and emotional support that they need in order to survive and thrive.
From a young age, Cora felt that she had been born into the wrong body. Though she was assigned the male gender at birth, she knew differently. She hid her true gender by staying behind closed doors when she wore her mother’s dresses, make-up, and jewelry. When discovered at age 12, her mother beat her and told her that if she dressed as a woman again, she would be thrown out. Cora ran away and, like many other transgender women experiencing homelessness, reluctantly engaged in sex work to survive. After nearly a year on the streets, Cora came to AFC for help. She was given a bed in the organization’s emergency housing shelter and connected to their career and educational readiness program, where she had the opportunity to build up her resume with a video editing internship. She is now earning money to take care of herself by working at an organic market.
When Brayden came out to his mother, she reacted with violence, ripping out a piece of his scalp. After fleeing his home, he spent weeks on the streets of New York City before becoming one of AFC’s first clients in 2002, moving into their emergency housing. At the organization’s first Thanksgiving, Brayden went around the table expressing how thankful he was to be with people who accepted him for who he was. He went on to co-author the LGBTQ policies for the New York City foster care system, later graduating from college, and then law school.
Dalia was only 17 years old when her mother forced her from her home for being in a same-gender relationship. Living on the streets, she engaged in sex work to survive. Suspecting she might have HIV, Dalia went to AFC’s Drop-in Center. A health coordinator arranged for her to be tested immediately. When her diagnosis was confirmed, Dalia was immediately provided with a bed as part of the organization’s housing program and given anti-retroviral drugs. Within a week, Dalia was taking care of herself and treating her HIV.
The impact of COVID-19
AFC’s work to help LGBTQ youth has been seriously affected by COVID-19. Over 90 percent of the organization’s housed clients have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Grocery expenses at AFC’s housing sites also increased by $100K since the quarantine began in March 2020. With a budget that has seriously been strained by the pandemic, AFC has continued to provide shelter, medical care, food, and all of the support that their clients need, and have been denied by their families and by other shelters.