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Homeless youth: the next battle for gay equality

LGBT Rally for Homeless Youth from Ali Forney on Vimeo.

BY VERENA DOBNIK, ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK -- Iro Uikka clutches his throat as he describes the violent clash that led to spending his nights sleeping in New York City subway cars.

"When I told my mother I was gay, she grabbed me by the neck and threw me out," he says. "Then she threw my coat on top of me and shut the door."

That was five years ago when he was 18, still living at home in Florida.

Uikka is among tens of thousands of homeless youths across America who are LGBT - lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Most are on the streets because they have nowhere else to go - outcasts who leave home after being rejected by family members or flee shelters because residents bully or beat them.

LGBT young people represent a dramatically high proportion of an estimated 600,000 or more homeless youths across the country - between 20 percent and 40 percent, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. But only about 5 percent of youths identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We've won battles for gay marriage and gays in the military," says Carl Siciliano, founder and executive director of the New York-based Ali Forney Center, the nation's largest organization for LGBT youth. "This is the next frontier, the next battle: helping these youths."

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