Curtis Shepard, the director of children, youth and family at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, participated in a public question and answer session with senior Jesse Aerni, the previous president of the Fusion Club on May 17 in honor of International Day Against Homophobia.
Shepard’s program is designed to assist the thousands of homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in L.A.
He said much of his work is focused on moving LGBT youth out of foster care. Many of the gay youth in placement homes face abuse and discrimination from foster families. Shepard attributed this mistreatment to homophobia.
“Families check the box saying, ‘Yes, I will take a gay/lesbian child.’ But when push comes to shove, it becomes, ‘Oh no, no, this is not what I signed up for,” Shepard said.
LGBT foster children are constantly moved in and out of homes, missing educational and bonding opportunities. Hundreds become emancipated at age 18 and are likely to become chronically homeless.
“We want these kids to be celebrated, not just tolerated in these homes,” Shepard said. “We create a sort of wraparound support system, surrounding the kid with love and support while finding a permanent and loving home for them.”
Shepard encouraged Linfield students and faculty to make Linfield a safe environment for everyone.
“You can subtly do things to signal students and make Linfield seem like a welcoming place,” he said.
Shepard also said that students shouldn’t be silent about equal rights based on sexuality.
“Speak up,” he said. “If you hear a derogatory slur like, ‘that’s gay,’ say that it’s not okay. Go to a Gay Straight Alliance meeting. It’s a big risk for students, but you can show support without labeling yourself as gay.”
Members of the staff, such as Gudrun Hommel, associate professor of German, said they found the lecture to be beneficial.
“I think it’s about time that we address this issue,” Hommel said. “I have students who have talked to me about not feeling safe here. I am sympathetic and supportive of these students. For me, it was helpful to hear suggestions about how we can signal that this is a safe environment.”
Shepard donated his earnings from the night’s lecture to fund a similar speaker for next year. Hommel said she hopes for better advertisement to ensure a greater turnout for the next lecture.
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