Don’t let the Senate throw away 40 percent of America’s homeless youth

“Enough is enough.” It’s a phrase that is said all too often about so many issues in our society, but unfortunately not enough when it comes to our nation's most vulnerable young people.

Congress must reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), our nation’s only federal law that specifically funds vital services for homeless youth. Republicans and Democrats have come together to ensure that our Federal Government offers much needed support to all homeless youth.

Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid On The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure Welch to seek Senate seat in Vermont MORE (D-Vt.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks On The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (R-Maine) have introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize RHYA, which will likely be brought up for a floor vote in the Senate this week - possibly as soon as today.

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The act includes a non-discrimination clause that will help ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) homeless youth not only have access to critical services, but that those services are safe, welcoming, and tailored to meet the needs of all youth.

We need that clause and some groups are trying to push to have it taken out. I was taught to listen to Proverbs 31: Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. Our kids need us to protect them, not to discriminate against them.

Research shows that while LGBT youth make up to seven percent of the general youth population, they comprise, on average, 40 percent of the 1.6 million youth that are homeless in this country each year. Think about that. It’s impossible to ignore.  

There is no getting around the fact that these kids are too often being thrown out of their homes and left to fend for themselves on the streets. The fact that this occurs each and every day in our country is simply a tragedy - a tragedy that does not have to continue.

At the True Colors Fund, we continue to hear stories of young people being discriminated against, offered improper services, and even turned away by service providers just because they happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. By continuing to leave 40 percent of our homeless youth unprotected, we are cutting our society off at the knees.

Kids actually ARE our future. What kind of future do we have in store if we do not care for all of our youth? ALL deserve to have their needs met so that these incredible and courageous young people can achieve their dreams and become healthy, happy, and contributing members of our society. These are our future teachers, parents, and leaders and we cannot afford to leave even one of them behind.

Programs and services receiving federal funding must be inclusive of all youth. Congress can start by passing the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act to ensure that all youth are protected in the vital programs that it would reauthorize. The time to act is now, because homeless youth don’t have the time for us to wait until tomorrow.

Lauper, a recording artist, is co-founder of the True Colors Fund, which works to end homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth and create a world where all young people can be their true selves.