Maia and J reflect on Trans youth experiencing homelessness.
What does Trans Day of Visibility mean to you?
Maia: I think Trans Day of Visibility means two things for our community. I think the first one is somberness and what visibility means for us. In our country right now, anti-Trans legislation is sweeping most of our states. In fact, over 50 percent of Trans youth live in a state that’s either already banned gender affirming care or is considering banning gender affirming care. This is life saving care that is considered medically necessary by every single major mental health and medical association in the country.
The second thing is reflection on our joy and our pride. Even though there is that somberness and that struggle that comes with visibility, it’s celebrating who we are and love for our community, and the joy that we’ve always been here, and we will always continue to be.
J: It means that young voices can be heard. It means that people can be seen, and not only that the struggles that came with it, because there’s been obviously throughout our history, trials and tribulations. It’s very important we have this type of visibility. That Trans youth see that they have people who love them and care for them.
How did you meet Maia?
J: I had gone through homelessness, and Maia was definitely a very big help getting me to the place I am now. Maia was there for me when I needed them the most.
What was homelessness like?
J: Very hard. Especially being a young adult trying to navigate this world and just trying to navigate myself, trying to know who I am, it was a very hard journey, but having Maia and these resources really helped me to become the young adult I am now.
What was it like when you first met J?
Maia: I remember meeting J and just seeing how much struggle he was going through and also seeing so much strength, resilience, and wisdom in such a young person. I think every single time that I got the joy of talking to J, I learned so much about myself, about our community, about how to persevere through difficulty.
How long have you two known each other?
J: It’s about to be a year in July.
What do you do in your job? It’s part of your job to help people like J, right?
Maia: Absolutely. My job has a lot of different facets. Sometimes we work in outreach, which is the capacity I met J in. That can be a lot of things. That can be helping youth enter onto the priority list for supportive housing. It can be helping people get their basic needs met, accessing food, employment, shelter, and I also work with our drop-in program. Our drop-in program is a partnership with the family tree clinic here in Minneapolis. It’s a really warm and safe and chill space for people to come and hang out, be themselves, have workshops. We have part therapy workshops, cooking workshops, and if anyone’s interested in learning more about that, they can find all of that information at AvenuesForYouth.org. And the third capacity I work in is working with our actual connect host home program. It’s a program in which we partner people in the community with young people in the community to help these young people find places to go when they don’t have one. These are people in the community who have extra room in their home and have the space to provide some food and shelter and are willing to partner with a young person, get to know them, and give them the love and respect that they deserve.
How did you first discover Avenues for Youth?
Maia: I started in one of our amazing shelters. Avenues for Youth has two shelters, Brooklyn Avenue and Minneapolis Avenue. I started in the Brooklyn Avenue shelter and worked with a lot of youth just like J, and heard about the connect program, which is one of our three satellite programs. Being in the LGBTQ+ community myself, I was just overjoyed that opportunity to be able to directly serve young people in our community.
What are the numerous risks young Trans people face?
J: Obviously discrimination of all types and sorts, verbal, physical, and then the acceptance of peers, that’s a hard thing to go through, especially as a youth. Going through school or going through life and not having your peers accept you for being yourself, just be yourself! There’s nothing you can really control.
Maia: I think there are so many challenges Trans youth are facing in this country. One of those is the legislation that’s sweeping our country right now. Thankfully we live in a state that just passed legislation to become a trans refuge state and what that means is that families across the country are fleeing here. They’re coming here to have life-saving mental health care, life-saving health care in general. And Trans youth are also facing homelessness at alarming rates. Right now, a recent study showed that 40% of youth in Minnesota who are experiencing homelessness identify as LGTQ+, which is just a huge number in relation to the amount of youth who are LGTQ+ in general. And so, something that ConneQT is passionate about is partnering with youth and meeting their need directly so that we can provide help to the youth who need help the most. One of the most important parts of this work is our outreach. We have a lot of youth who don’t come directly into our programs and our shelters because oftentimes shelters aren’t a safe place for Trans youth. Shelters aren’t designed for youth with diverse gender experiences, and it can be hard to be in that place. Sometimes we can partner along with youth to get them to be where they need to be.
Is there a feeling that Minneapolis is leading the way, and how does it feel?
J: It makes me feel happy and empowered to be able to claim a city like Minneapolis. It also is inspiring for me to spread the knowledge that we are a safe place for other young people to come to, young or old honestly, to get the care that their states aren’t supporting.
In the national conversation, are people looking to Minneapolis?
Maia: I would say that Minneapolis is a beacon of hope for a lot of Trans people in the Midwest area. We are surrounded by states that are considering legislation or has already passed legislation to ban gender affirming care, to limit Trans youth’s access to bathrooms, these really discriminatory laws that are affecting thousands of Trans youth. This is the place where they can go. They can come here, and they can be safe. And it’s inspiring to see the work of Andrea Jenkins and other Trans leaders in our community every single day to make sure that we have that safety and that support.
What does having a Trans lawmaker serving our state mean for representation?
Maia: I think one of the most important things of being a young Trans person is being able to see yourself, see yourself in professional capacity, see yourself represented in your government, see yourself represented on TV, and that’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about what I do. I want to be able to show young people that we really can do it. We can be here, we can be seen, we can be visible. We can have professional roles and we can thrive and be happy.
What brought you to the job?
Maia: I wanted to give back to my community, and wanted to make sure that young people in our community know that people are fighting for them. That people are doing everything they can to make sure that they have support, and that they have their needs met, and fighting every day to get them access to housing and mental health care and food and employment and all of those things that we need to stay alive and thrive.
Our ConneQT Host Home program is designed to have people in the community who have extra room in their home, and they’d like to have a young person come and stay with them, and that’s our program that’s geared toward LGBTQ+ youth. Out stay typically starts at three months and can move into a longer stay, up to about a year.
How many host homes are there?
Maia: Not enough. The most important thing we need right now is more hosts who have that extra space and that extra love in their heart to partner with a young person. I think that’s the thing that Avenues is hoping for most right now, for people in the community to step up and be allies with us and provide that housing.
J, how would you describe Maia’s impact on your life?
J: Very impactful. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have not only the character development, but also I wouldn’t have been able to better understand our community, not even as young Trans people but within the LGBT community, just more insight on that as well. And having these types of resources in place are very important to have for youth because without it, I don’t know where I wound have been. And I guarantee you there’s a lot of youth that can attest to that. Navigating this world is very hard as an individual. So, as a young person, and having these types of resources is like a shoulder to lean on and somebody to turn to. It is very important.
Can you describe the circumstances that lead to you being homeless?
J: My family and I just weren’t seeing eye to eye. It just wasn’t a good situation. It winded me up hurt. At that time, I knew my family did not have my best interest, so I reached out, and thankfully, it was a blessing when Maia reached out and got back to me. The waiting period and the anxiousness of ‘Where am I going to sleep? What is going to happen to me?’. Having the support system alleviated a lot of the stress and worries of homelessness, because as a young person, it’s kind of hard to feel safe when you’re not somewhere you can call home. When you’re somewhere unfamiliar with unfamiliar people. And not only that, you’re trying to discover yourself. It’s hard to even balance those things out within life. Having the right people in my corner really helped a lot. It impacted me immensely. I feel like I wouldn’t have had the character development and the mental growth that I have currently if I didn’t have Maia or if I didn’t endure the things that I did.
How long did it last before you got connected to Maia?
J: It was about to be two years.
That had to have been incredibly challenging.
J: Oh yes and trying to affirm myself and figure out myself as an individual, was the hardest part. Having Avenues and their staff, their amazing staff, it was very helpful to even process those feelings and thoughts that happened during that time.
How old were you when you left home with your family?
J: I was 16.
Anyone who works with others, it can be a thankless job. It’s hard to see the progress you’re making. To sit next to J and hear him say that this relationship means everything, how does that make you feel?
Maia: It means the world to me. I’ve had the joy of working with J since mid-last year. We’ve gone through a lot together, shelters, figuring out the supporting housing situation, and there was a moment when we got that email that J was going to be able to get into his own apartment and I just remember how excited we were driving over and we’re both freaking out and it just, it didn’t even feel real, but it had finally come. And we got inside, and you got handed the key, and opening the door to your apartment, and I remember you looked at me and you said ‘Maia, it’s mine. It’s my home.’ And I think that’s everything. It’s getting to see how far you’ve come and just the overwhelming feeling of being so proud of you and so proud to have the privilege of getting to work with you and see your entire journey and see that joy. That’s what it’s about.
J: With the predicament I was put in, it led me exactly where I needed to be. Having Maia there every step of the way was encouraging, inspiring, and I feel like our messages should be encouraging and inspiring for others to spread love not only to young Trans youth, but everybody that has endured our types of experiences and tribulations and trials.
There are so many people in America who have never met someone who is Trans. What would you want someone to know if the only knowledge they have is what they’ve seen on cable news?
J: You’re not going to point out everyone whose Trans, for starters, just like you wouldn’t be able to tell what kind of undershirt I have on. It’s just who people are. It genuinely boils down to being more openminded and openhearted. Considering how immense mental health is when it surrounds this topic, and it’s endangering that other states within our country are putting these bills for, and it’s harming a lot of youth. I’m glad that we can be here as a state and be welcome.
Maia: A lot of people say they’ve never gotten to know a Trans person, they’ve never met a Trans person. Something we both would say is ‘yes you have. You definitely have, and you might not have known.’ I think it’s about love. It’s about knowing that we’re people with entire experiences and joys and loves and relationships that are outside of just the fact that we’re Trans. There’s so much more to who we are than just the one piece of us. Which is beautiful, and is something that we’re proud of, but it’s not the only thing we’re proud of. It’s not that only thing that’s beautiful about us.
J: A lot of our youth and adults, I want them to spread the word that being Trans is not a disease. Being Trans is not a negative. It’s simply a state of being who you are. It’s not an endangerment to other people. It’s not going to persuade anybody to do anything. We are simply just being who we are, just as you are. You should love us exactly as we love y’all. And that’s what it is.