Friday, November 29, 2013
Recently I met a girl in Minneapolis who told me about being out on the streets at 16 in the frozen Minnesota winter. She found a bus driver who would allow her to ride the city bus all night. But one night when he was off duty and she didn't have the bus fare, she shivered in the snow, fearing she would die in the cold. Another boy told me of being thrown out of his home in a suburb of Atlanta by a homophobic aunt. Having nowhere to go, he spent three days and nights in the woods near his house, with no food or water, crying and terrified and wanting to die. Finally he staggered out onto a sidewalk and collapsed of dehydration and was hospitalized.
Many kids turn to prostitution, having no other way to support themselves. Deon became homeless in Houston when he was 15. He also rode the buses all night, and would shower in the morning at a friend's house before heading to school. One night he was propositioned while waiting for the bus, and was offered money for sex. Deeply exhausted from his long nights on the bus, he reluctantly accepted. He told me that he felt so ashamed and humiliated by the experience, that he spent over an hour in the shower at his friends house that morning. He was weeping uncontrollably and didn't want anyone to see him like that. Deon lives with us now. Yesterday he told me that at his job at H&M clothing store, he has a portion of his income taken out of each paycheck. He uses this money to sponsor an orphan in Zimbabwe. He was beaming with pride when he told me this. I am more proud of him than I know how to say.
At the Ali Forney Center we respond to LGBT kids in the most horrifying situations imaginable. We respond with food and shelter, with job training and medical care. We work with kids from all over the country. Last year we cared for over 1,000 kids. As important as it is to house and feed these kids, it is just as important to affirm their basic human worth as LGBT people. It is important to show that they belong to our community, that they are valued and loved.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the kids who live with us, that they can have the opportunity to be healed of their terrible wounds. And I am thankful for the community of support that allows us to do this beautiful work. I am especially thankful to Joe and the JoeMyGod community for standing by us year after year. I am especially thankful for the amazing support we received last year when Hurricane Sandy destroyed our drop-in center.
I ask you to consider supporting our kids at this time. We have 200 kids on the waiting list for our shelters tonight, and have to rely on the support of the community in this time of sequestration and government cutbacks. Donations can be sent to us by mail at: Ali Forney Center, 224 West 35th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001. Donations can be made online here.
Shopping the Dharma
We must become aware of how the consumer mentality functions in us and in our spiritual communities and institutions. We need to revive appreciation for the traditional model of a practitioner who lives a life of simplicity and humility, sincerity and endeavor, kindness and compassion. We must choose teachers with these qualities, cultivate these qualities in ourselves, and guide our students in developing them. We must remember that the purpose of a spiritual institution is not to preserve itself, but to facilitate the teaching and practice of a spiritual tradition. We should have only as much institutional structure as needed to do that, no more. This is essential to maintain the vitality of our spiritual traditions and to prevent them from becoming empty shells.
- Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, “Shopping the Dharma”