Main | Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Guest Post - Carl Siciliano
Executive Director, Ali Forney Center

Christmas is a bittersweet time for me. Ali Forney was murdered on the streets of New York City in December of 1997. He was the seventh homeless LGBT kid I knew who had been killed on the streets between 1994 and 1997. In those days there was no shelter for LGBT kids in New York City. The only youth shelter available was run by the Catholic Church, and it was a place where gay kids were routinely gay bashed and brutalized. Ali and his friends felt safer on the streets, but their lives were filled with humiliation and terror.

Christmas of 1997 was not a very merry one for me. I had really cared for Ali, and admired him. He was a very big-hearted kid who created a real sense of community with the other street kids. He was famous for coming every day to the drop-in center I ran and filling his knapsack with hundreds of condoms to give to other kids working the streets. When two of his closest friends were killed on the streets he went to the police precincts and demanded that the police investigate their murders. Ali was a very effeminate young black man who frequently dressed and identified as a woman. It gives you an idea of the extent to which he cared about his friends that he was willing to expose himself to inevitable hostility and ridicule from the police as he sought for justice.

When Ali was killed I was so heartbroken that I thought I would need to quit this work. I was close to despair over what I saw: hundreds of kids having their lives destroyed on our streets, rejected by their families, their needs ignored by the powers that be in the City. I was also upset with the gay community. The only contact most of these kids had with gay adults was through prostitution. I felt that if gay adults didn't stand up for gay kids and demand that they be protected, then who would?

I ended up deciding that I would channel my hurt and anger into working to create safe housing for homeless LGBT kids. I was inspired by the courage and determination that Ali had demonstrated in advocating for his friends.

Now the Ali Forney Center has become the largest organization in the country dedicated to homeless LGBT youth. We house 48 kids per night in safe homelike apartments scattered around the City. We offer medical care, mental health treatment, and vocational and educational assistance. Hundreds of kids come to us from all over the country for help. Where Ali and his friends were alone and in danger in the cold of winter, now our kids are safe and warm. Where Ali and his friends saw their potential destroyed by drugs and violence, now our kids are given the support they need to get jobs, and go to school, and rebuild their lives.

What I am proudest of, though, is the community that we have created through the Ali Forney Center. Hundreds of gay (and gay-friendly) people have rallied around our kids, cooking for them, teaching them, mentoring them. We have built a beautiful LGBT village to safely raise our LGBT youth (to paraphrase Hillary Clinton).

This Christmas I need to turn to the community for support more than ever before. We have received about $200K less in the past three months than we did at the same time last year. Corporate and Foundation support has gone way down since the economy tanked. I have been spending many sleepless nights worrying about how to pay our bills and keep this going. I need the generosity and caring of the individual members of the LGBT community to make up for the gap. So if you can, please send checks to:

Ali Forney Center
224 West 35th Street, Suite 1102
New York, NY 10001

Or donate online here.

I thank Joe for his kindness and support in giving us this opportunity. Many readers responded to my Thanksgiving appeal for which I am very grateful. I thank you in advance for your continuing generosity. Together we can see to it that when a teen comes out of the closet, they don't get thrown to the streets.

Merry Christmas!

Carl Siciliano

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