For people who identify as LGBT+, "coming out" is an undertaking they all know too well. For some, coming out is straight forward and can be relatively easy. For others, it can be life-altering. Their family may disown them, they may get bullied at school and they may be forced to do the only thing they think is available to them – run away. This is an unfortunate reality for far too many LGBT+ youth in this country.
There is not much in the way of representation for the LGBT+ youth who are displaced and homeless. We have heard of their stories, and may even know some kids who are homeless, but it is not something in the forefront of our minds. When we think of LGBT+ rights we tend to think of same sex marriage, adoption, and discrimination. It's easy to forget that around 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT+. Compare that with the fact that LGBT+ identifying kids only make up about 5 to 10% of the youth population overall. These are startling numbers, and not something that can easily be ignored. That is precisely why Sherry Kelly set out to create A Place Called Home – a film about a young girl who finds herself homeless after coming to accept her sexuality. Kelly saw an opportunity to create a fictional account that represents the real life experiences of many LGBT+ youth in this country.
Kelly explains how she came to focus on this particular issue surrounding LGBT+ youth. "While working on the Paramount Pictures studio lot, I became aware of the news reports about LGBT kids being bullied - sometimes to the point of death and all too often by suicide." She elaborates, "I wanted to learn more, so I researched bullying which led me to homeless LGBT youth. It didn't take long for me to realize just how much I didn’t know – which was a lot. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the statistics."
Through the extensive research Kelly has conducted on the subject, she has learned that one homeless LGBT+ youth dies on the street every four hours. Six die each day from the lack of shelter, lack of food, lack of healthcare and violence. In addition to that, about 1,500 commit suicide each year. More than 700,000 LGBT+ youth experience homelessness every year, and while there are shelters available, many LGBT+ kids are turned away due to their sexuality. Armed with this information, Kelly got to work on creating a story that would resonate with these kids who are struggling, and bring a relatively unknown issue to mainstream attention.
"Deeply moved and determined to make a difference and as someone with a creative vision, I started putting my ideas to paper. I created characters, crafted a story and began working closely with Dio, the outstanding writer that I found after an extensive search."
With A Place Called Home, Kelly hopes to bring widespread attention to an issue that mostly goes unnoticed. With the heart wrenching story of the protagonist, Ally, she hopes to spark the social change necessary to prevent even more LGBT+ youth from becoming homeless. There are more nuanced reasons behind LGBT+ homelessness aside from being disowned from their families. Though the story follows Ally and her struggle, it will also address some of the other reasons LGBT+ kids end up homeless. The story is brutally honest, with nothing held back. It's meant to give an authentic representation of what these kids face on the streets.
To help bring this story to life, Kelly was able to find a group of students to volunteer their time and talents to record a trailer for the soon-to-be film. Some of the students had first hand knowledge of LGBT+ homelessness, and were able to bring their perspective to the team. Because of their passion and dedication, Kelly hopes to have the students help with the full-length feature as well. The goal is to not only bring awareness to this problem, but to remind LGBT+ youth that they are not alone. Kelly says, "I'd tell them they are not just statistics in a report or in an article about a film. I'd tell them they matter. There are people who care and are working to bring attention to them and positive social action in their lives."
Bringing awareness isn't the only important aspect of creating social change – action is important as well. It's for that reason that Kelly states that she's committed to donating a portion of A Place Called Home's earnings to organizations that bring awareness to, as well as aid homeless LGBT+ youth. She believes success lies within the film's ability to entertain the audience in addition to bringing about social change. Kelly knows that LGBT+ youth face a unique set of challenges, which can lead to them becoming homeless and staying that way. She discusses what she believes society can do to aid LGBT+ youth and their specific needs.
"We first need to realize LGBT youth who are struggling to avoid becoming homeless and those who are already homeless have very unique challenges. They need safe spaces, and not just those provided by charities and organizations that cater to LGBT youth.
For example, LGBT homeless youth have a much harder time finding shelters that are safe and accepting than heterosexual homeless youth. Even when they are able to locate a shelter, they are often emotionally and physically abused by their peers and even by shelter staff. 9 out of 10 LGBT students report being harassed and bullied. So, safe spaces must also extend to schools.
Everyone can be an advocate and make a difference. I think the best way [you can help] is to contact your local LGBT charities and your local government agencies. They know the specific needs of their LGBT homeless youth communities better than anyone."
For those who are interested in supporting this film, they currently have a crowdfunding page set up with reward tiers ranging from a grateful "thank you" to a guest appearance in the final production. All of the details and rewards can be found here. You can also follow A Place Called Home on Facebook and Twitter.
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