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Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum Headshot

A Generation Sacrificed, Again

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As a society we are sacrificing a generation of our young people. Every night in New York City, in the wealthiest country in the world, we have children sleeping on the street. Every night, close to 4,000 of our young people are without homes and without shelter. These youth have been thrown out of their homes, neglected by their communities, and ignored by our decision makers.

In the LGBT community, this is a pressing crisis: up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Over the course of growing up, a quarter of LGBTQ youth are thrown out of their homes. There are less than 250 shelter beds in New York City for all homeless youth, and only 42 of these are safe and welcoming spaces for LGBTQ youth. These children are forced to sleep in the streets or in doorways, trade sex for shelter, and put themselves in harm's way every day and night.

Every night this reality is with us. Every morning each of us has a choice.

That is why my congregants and I formed the Shelter of Peace Network, a multi-faith initiative advocating safe shelter for LGBTQ homeless youth.

We have called on Governor Cuomo to form a budget that reflects the moral values of our communities. We have demanded a commitment to increase the number of shelter beds until no youth are sleeping on the streets due to lack of shelter.

Nevertheless, once again, our youth have been neglected. Last year Cuomo slashed state funding for homeless youth shelters by 50 percent, leaving enough resources to fund a meager 21 shelter beds, a scarcity that has once again been written into this year's budget. Our budgets reflect our moral priorities as a society. We are sacrificing a generation.

As the rabbi and spiritual leader at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a synagogue for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and straight Jews, I lead a congregation rooted in struggle. We have already lost a generation to HIV, to the societal neglect of our community; we cannot afford to lose a second generation.

As Jews, we are commanded to take responsibility for teaching our children. The words "your children" are interpreted by our teachers as "your builders," "your next generation." Our first responsibility is to the children we bring into our families. We are commanded to teach them our deepest values, to provide them with shelter, food, and an abundance of spiritual, emotional, and physical care.

Our second responsibility is to our builders, to the young people for whom we are teachers, mentors, elders of their community, and the people with decision-making power.

The dangers and possibility of this responsibility is central to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theological traditions. In the story of Abraham, we learn about the fate of two children, each of whose life is threatened due to the despair or the arrogance of their elders.

All over the country, we are banishing and abandoning our builders: young people who are queer in families that reject them, transgender and gender-nonconforming in families that kick them out. And we are leaving them out of our communities and out of our budgets -- a moral accounting of whose lives matter.

Right now, we are embodying the worst of Abraham's story. We have not heard the voice calling to us, as to Abraham, that there is another way. We must turn back from zealotry, arrogance, and neglect. We have a responsibility to build our families to fit those within them. We have a responsibility to care for all of the young people in our communities. We adults who have had the blessing to grow to adulthood have a responsibility to ensure that our youth have the same opportunity.

This past weekend over 20 churches and synagogues in New York City sounded the alarm on the LGBTQ youth homelessness crisis. We continue to demand that our government commit to our young people, and commit to funding safe shelter for our homeless. The Shelter of Peace Weekend of Prayer and Learning was the first of many events through which people of faith are calling on our community and our decision makers to take responsibility for our builders, our children, and a generation of our youth.