Phoenix Houses of Texas attended the 2013 Adolescent Symposium held on Thursday, February 7th at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas. De’An Olson, Phoenix House Program Director of the Judge John C. Creuzot Judicial Treatment Center in Wilmer, conducted an afternoon workshop entitled “Does LGBT Status Really Matter?” citing the high incidence of substance abuse and homelessness among LGBT youth.
In the 1990’s, De’An Olson worked in LGBT substance abuse and counseling and performed extensive professional research into the importance of having separate LGBT substance abuse support groups. While working with Texas Women’s University and George Washington University, she found these separate support groups to be tremendously helpful for LGBT youth. Even just the visibility of LGBT-specific programs helps make LGBT youth feel connected. It also gives youth a safe place to go when places like home and school don’t provide their safety needs.
But as helpful as LGBT support groups are for this generation’s youth, De’An asserts, there is still further to go. Family conflict is the number one reason youth end up homeless, no matter what gender or sexual orientation they identify with. Studies have shown that half of LGBT teens received negative responses from their parents when they came out—over a quarter of whom were kicked out of their homes. These are scary statistics. Another scary statistic—up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT.
The struggles of homeless life leads homeless youth to abuse drugs and alcohol—in Minnesota, five studies found that between 10 and 20% of homeless youth self-identify as chemically dependent. The risk of substance abuse is higher for homeless LGBT than non-LGBT homeless youth. While they suffer the same pressures of homeless life that non-LGBT do, LGBT youth also struggle with chronic stress as a result of verbal and physical abuse from both peers and family.
Knowledge of these statistics and tendencies is a step towards addressing the issue. But, again, there is still further to go, and there are always more issues to address. Youth—homeless and non-homeless—who identify themselves as bisexual are up to 400% more likely to have issues with substance abuse than lesbian, gay, and straight youth because they feel they don’t fit in in LG or straight groups. And while the availability of LGB recovery groups has risen, the availability of transgender support groups has not—leaving trans youth at even more risk of substance abuse.
Separate support groups for LGBT youth are important and effective, De’An emphasized in her workshop, but it alone is not the answer. While it provides support and a safe haven for LG youth, more needs to be done to include BT youth. Through research and awareness like what De’An Olson presented at the 2013 Adolescent Symposium, Phoenix Houses of Texas’s committed staff strives to provide services that will help everyone struggling with substance abuse recover and live fuller lives.