Having friends and being a part of a community are things that many people want for themselves, but for youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ), this sense of community can be especially important.
That’s because their communities aren’t simply a circle of friends to hang out with – they can be a safety net or a lifeline in times of need. They can help and rely on each other and keep each other safe, especially when people like parents and other adults who are supposed to be there for them aren’t.
“I held my breath and walked into the queer youth center for the first time. It was all concrete, spray paint, bike parts, glitter, and BO, but for the first time I knew that I wasn’t alone. I learned the beginnings of trust from other kids who had lost everything. We swore allegiances to one another, built families in the back rooms of that youth center, in parks, under bridges, in punk houses. We kept the promises we made. We grew each other up, saving one another in ways no adults, no social workers or agencies ever could.” – Sassafras Lowrey
Too many LGBTQ youth have to face problems like discrimination, misconceptions, and abuse by their peers, family members, and others. Unfortunately, having to deal with these problems can make them particularly vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation.
That’s why community can be so important for LGBTQ youth – without support systems like stable family homes, LGBTQ youth have to rely on themselves and each other to stay safe and avoid harm. This is no easy task, because without that support, education, or access to a job market, LGBTQ youth can be left with few options to support themselves, especially if they have run away from home or are homeless.
Building the Safety Net Within Communities
We can’t just depend on law enforcement, service providers, or concerned citizens to intervene in a potential trafficking situation. We have to spread awareness about trafficking within the vulnerable communities themselves and equip individuals with the tools to recognize and respond to trafficking within their own communities.
Our new resource, Staying Safe: Tips for LGBTQ Youth for How to Protect Yourself and Your Community from Human Trafficking, does just that – it expands the safety net for victims and survivors of human trafficking within the LGBTQ community. With this resource, LGBTQ youth will learn how to recognize signs of trafficking or exploitation in their own lives or in their friends’ lives, tips for how to protect themselves and their community members from traffickers, and how to reach out for help if they suspect that they or someone they know is experiencing human trafficking.
While we highlight certain risk factors that can make LGBTQ youth especially vulnerable to traffickers, we want to stress that nothing in this toolkit is said in judgment. On the contrary, we want to commend all LGBTQ youth for the strength and resiliency they show in order to overcome the difficulties they face.
We encourage you to share this resource with your networks so that LGBTQ youth who are doing their best to survive and thrive can better protect themselves and their community members from those who seek to exploit them.
Photo credit: Flickr / RachelFerreiraPhotography