Last week, '80s pop legend Cyndi Lauper spoke before a Senate subcommittee about youth homelessness, and Memphian Kal Rocket had her back — literally.
Rocket was one of four formerly homeless youth from across the nation invited to sit behind Lauper as she testified before the subcommittee.
Lauper, whose True Colors nonprofit organization addresses youth homelessness, spoke to the committee about ways to address the issue of LGBT youth homelessness since LGBT youth make up 40 percent of the estimated 1.6 million homeless kids and youth adults (ages 12 to 24) across the country.
"So you can see the disparity. You can see there's something bigger at play here. Basically, the kids come out, and they get thrown out. Or they run away because they don't feel accepted," Lauper said in her Senate speech. "Is that acceptable? I say no. No young person should be left without a home because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity. The truth is, they didn't choose their identity. It's like you choosing the color of your eyes. They're born that way."
Rocket was chosen for the trip after being picked as one of True Colors' "40 of the 40," a list of 40 LGBT young adults who have either experienced homelessness or housing instability. Rocket and the three others who accompanied Lauper sat behind her as she gave her speech. While in Washington, D.C., they also spoke on an LGBT youth homelessness panel for various government department heads. — Bianca Phillips
- Justin Fox Burks
- Kal Rocket
Flyer: So how did the big day in Washington, D.C., go?
Kal Rocket: We got up super early and went to the Eisenhower building for the panel. The four of us sat up front with Cyndi and two people who work with her at True Colors. And they picked one of us to give a testimony in front of Congress because they only had time for one of us. They picked the white, straight girl from Maine.
And what exactly was the purpose of meeting with Congress?
Congress has tasked all of these [government] departments to, by the end of this year, have a plan for youth homelessness. So this was the first briefing of three where they're bringing together this plan. By 2019, they have to start putting the plan into action.
Was your visit a success?
The panel was in front of a bunch of homeless service providers and people who work for the departments. That was the easy part because they wanted to hear, from a youth perspective, what we needed.
Congress didn't go so well. There were two senators who were not friendly. One was majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and the other one was Bill Cassidy from Louisiana. He was like, "How do you know that it's 40 percent [of homeless youth that are LGBT]? Where did you get these numbers?"
But we do know that about 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. And we were like, "Well, we're not just here to talk about gay kids. We're here to talk about homeless kids."
You didn't get to speak before the committee, but what were you prepared to say if chosen?
I would have talked about how kids from small towns have come to live with me or come to the center [Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center], and they had no idea that they could get food stamps or that someone would help them. But a lot of places that I would take them to try and get them help would just try to "fix" them because they were gay or trans.
What about your own experience with housing instability?
I could have used services between ages 17 and 19. I lived in an apartment without utilities, and I was eating out of a food pantry. I was so scared [to go to a homeless service provider for help], because they would just be like, "Oh, well you're gay. So that's really the problem."
What was Cyndi Lauper like? Cyndi is so funny. She talks exactly like she sings with that little baby voice. And when some of the senators said some things to her, she came back with really snarky remarks. She was full of energy, and she just wants to help. She was a homeless youth. That's why she started this.