Under bridges across our nation, in doorways, in abandoned buildings, make shift camps and squats, homeless youth try to find a safe place to sleep at night. For nearly 2 million homeless youth in America, safety does not come easy and sometimes not at all. Core causes of youth homelessness include a break down in our systems of care, queerphobia, poverty, residential instability, racism, and violence and neglect in the home. Operation Shine America (OSA), is a national advocacy, education, and outreach organization, doing their best to shine a light on this epidemic coast to coast; they are a grassroots movement celebrating and honoring the courage and authenticity of homeless youth in America.
Operation Shine began in 2009, as a walk across America for homeless youth (www.pridewalk2009.org). Chloe Noble and Jill Hardman walked for 9 months across the country, raising awareness of homeless youth, 40% of which are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQI). This means that transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia are some core causes of youth homelessness. During PrideWalk they documented the lives of homeless youth. They also organized rallies in many cities that they visited. They call their rallies “Shines”, because it is more meaningful to them. To Shine, Noble states, is to be Authentic. Youth attend Shines to celebrate authenticity without fear.
OSA has launched a national 2011 homeless youth campaign called: “Shine With Whatever You Got!” The primary event for the campaign is on May 14, 2011, called, “Purple Hand Day and National Shine Night”. 22 cities are already organizing events of up to 300+ people, including smaller family events in solidarity. To register your Shine event, endorse the campaign, or volunteer for OSA, please go to their website. On May 14, 2011, nationwide participants are painting their hands purple in honor of homeless Queer youth. Later that evening they are celebrating, “National SHINE Night”, using tea candles, flashlights, glow sticks, and even cell phones in order to light up America and raise awareness of homeless youth. Organizers are also creating dances, drum circles, picnics, flashmobs, open mics, or guerilla theater.
“Homeless youth are a part of our community. We are demanding that homeless youth be treated with dignity and respect. It is possible for these youth to return home and pretend that they are not queer or to pretend that violence and neglect is not happening in their homes - but they don’t. They tell the truth and then our society punishes them for it. The courage and authenticity of homeless youth deserves to be honored and celebrated,” says Noble.
To celebrate homeless youth, OSA spent the year creating a homeless youth flag to be revealed on June 14, national flag day. 6 foot versions of the flag will be sent, by Utah Pride Center, as gifts to homeless youth organizations across the nation, to show respect for homeless youth and those that advocate for them. OSA’s planting of the flag nationwide, represents how much homeless youth have to offer our society, and that they deserve to be seen and heard. “Utah Pride Center is proud to offer these flags in appreciation to communities and organizations that advocate relentlessly for homeless youth, up to 40% of which are queer,” says Jude McNeil, Director of Youth Programs. OSA is an affiliate of the Utah Pride Center.
Organizations on board with OSA’s 2011 campaign include, Coexistence Coalition, Trevor Project, GSA Network, PFLAG, NOH8 Campaign, ReachOutUSA, ThatsSoGayLIVE, GetEQUAL, Colage, Connecting Rainbows, AJ Fund, and many other organizations. Celebrities such as super model Jessica Clark, Barbara Niven, Scott Lowell, and Michelle Clunie are also speaking out for the campaign, along with high profile civil rights activists David Mixner, Robin McGehee, and Cleve Jones. “With creativity and endless energy Operation Shine America is forcing America to open up their doors for our young. They are simply amazing in their use of limited resources to create change. They have my deep admiration and respect,” says author, political strategist, and civil rights activist David Mixner.
Homeless Youth are a part of our community. Collectively, their story is one of great faith and surprising wisdom. They have much to teach us. We are ready now to hear them, to see them, and to help them in any way we can. There is a movement happening in our nation, a crying out for justice that will not relinquish its hold......and we are calling it OPERATION SHINE AMERICA.