Some homeless LGBT youth will return to sleeping on a park bench or in a subway car this evening.
Dozens of teens, however, will have a bed, food and health services because of Harlem’s largest LGBT community center, the Ali Forney Center at 321 W. 125 St.
As a youth counselor for the Ali Forney Center, which provides transitional housing and health care services for homeless LGBT youth, Kerbie Joseph helps students who struggle to embrace their identity. “Every day is a battle for them,” Joseph said. “They are going through massive pain [and] are trying to find themselves.”
Joseph said the recent mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., where 50 people were killed, including the gunman, and at least 53 were injured, forced students to become more aware of their sexual orientation.
As details trickled in from social media feeds regarding the attack, Joseph encouraged youth to stand in solidarity with the victims.
Many students at the center attended the Stonewall Inn vigil to commemorate the slain clubgoers.
“They feel hate towards themselves because of what’s happening … a lot of residents are of color,” Joseph said. “It’s like, ‘I’m Black and cops can do this to me.’ And, ‘I’m gay and I can be shot or killed because of a hate crime.’”
At least 65 percent of homeless LGBT youth are people of color, according to Advocates for Youth, a youth activist group.
Raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Joseph also works as a representative for the Akai Gurley family.
For 18 months, she has organized and rallied across the city to bring awareness to Gurley’s fatal shooting.
“It’s been a long road and a lot of ups and downs,” Joseph said. “There have been moments where we feel demoralized, but I get up and I rally everyone up.”
As a first-generation American, Joseph watched her Haitian-born mother work for $100 a week.
“She worked in a factory … and she used all the money to send home,” Joseph said.
The low wages earned at the factory were sent to Haiti to support Joseph’s older brother and relatives.
Joseph said her mother is fearful of her activism because of past political riots in Haiti.
Friends who stood up against the Haitian dictatorship often disappeared from the village. Joseph’s mother is not willing to take that risk with her daughter.
“She doesn’t want me to fight [and] she doesn’t want me to get in trouble,” Joseph said. “My mom [is] afraid. When she sees, turns on the TV and she sees me on the news, she will say, ‘You’re still doing this stuff. They are going to hurt you and you’re going to go to jail.’”
This prospect propelled Joseph to take risks and march on behalf of disenfranchised students.
She started her activism during her last two years at CUNY’s York College. The 2012 alumnus helped to organize a 500-student walkout in six days for the free CUNY struggle.
LGBT youth across the five boroughs who feel their lives are in danger will rest at the center and once again look to Joseph for guidance.
“Being who you are can cost you your life,” she said. “There’s a Black gay kid who feels their whole life is going to be a tragedy because they can’t find peace anywhere.”