35-year-old Fantasia McKenzie comes from a large family. He has too many nieces and nephews to count, and at least five children, some of whom now have children of their own. A homosexual from the Bronx, New York City, Mackenzie called him a “chosen family”, a common phrase LGBTQ people use to describe bonds forged in the absence of a biological family.
“I became an adult, and I created my own family,” said McKenzie, who met most of the long-term chosen family members of Sylvia Place, an LGBTQ homeless youth shelter in Manhattan, and other options nearby, a Drop-in Queer Center for Youth, when she was a young adult.
McKenzie said his biological mother loved and accepted him, but was too insecure to provide a stable home for a child. During her youth, McKenzie wound up with an unstable housing situation next and eventually in Sylvia’s place and later in New Alternative, where she began bonding with other LGBTQ youth, which would become her chosen family.
“We have grown up now, so relationships are not always what people expect from them,” McKenzie told NBC News. “We don’t speak every day. We do not see each other every day, but when we do this, it happens that we never give up, as if we were never separate from each other. “
For the past decade, McKenzie gathers with her entire chosen family at the annual New Alternatives Holiday Party – or, as she likes to call it, “family reunion”. This year, however, the epidemic has forced the center to cancel the annual event and instead distribute food and Christmas “party bags” at the door.
“You all. You see who the children were this year, how grown up the children are. “It’s better than catching up on Facebook, because you interact in person. Now you can catch the kid you see growing up on Facebook, you know? We do not have this year. We cannot socialize. We cannot meet each other. “
‘The only family we know’
LGBTQ selected families are present across the country, in large cities, and in small and entire states. Some may trace their roots back to shelters, others reestablish these bonds within their local communities. Traditional families are bound by blood, but chosen families are bound by love, friendship and their shared differences. Many in LGBTQ-selected families broke away from their biological families due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, although there are those who have more complex relationships with their families of birth.
Since the chosen families often do not live together, many have been unable to see each other during the epidemic and in some cases, have even lost close to Kovid-19.
Tanyun Monta, 45, is the father of one of the largest elected families in the House of Monta: Jackson, Mississippi. The self-described “Rainbow’s father”, who is transgender, estimates that he has about 50 members in the family, including his wife, Malita Joy-Brooks, who takes care of the family with him.
“I have children, my children have children, my children have children. I have brothers. I have sisters They may have children, ”Montage said of his chosen family.
Monte’Gay said that most of his “home” or family members were displaced by their biological families, an experience he said he shares. Over the years, most of their children have moved out of the state and started their own families – both biological and selected. He said that birthdays and holidays are usually times when they will meet again, but the epidemic has prevented them from gathering.
“We got together for Thanksgiving,” he said of years past. “It was like an attraction to everyone who came into the house.” Thanks to this, he said that they actually gathered instead of Zoom and could do the same for Christmas.
39-year-old Sibastian Smith, one of Montaz’s “iridescent sons”, said the epidemic “has taken a toll on our community.”
“These are the only families we know, the only family that we have, and not being able to see those people, maintaining physical contact with them for so long is definitely for a lot of members of our community Mentally harmful, “said.
LGBTQ people have dreadful relationships with their birth families and are less likely to form their own biological families. A 2016 report published in North America’s pediatric clinics cited research that one-third of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth experienced parental disapproval due to their sexual orientation. And a 2013 Pew Research Center poll found that 35 percent of LGBTQ adults have parents, while the general public has 74 percent of adults.
From ‘grandmother’ to ‘twins’
Kate Barnhart, executive director of New Alternatives, said her drop-in center helps about 250 queued youth a year. However, some of the organization’s clients come from families who cannot take care of them, he said, with most being rejected by their parents for being LGBTQ or wanting to leave because their families do not accept them. As a result, many form families of their own, she said.
“It gets quite involved; Sometimes I feel like I need a diagram, ”Barnart said of the complex relationships that come out of chosen families, from grandmothers to nephews to twins (to members of the chosen family Which develop an extremely close bond) may be involved.
He estimated that there are about four “main” chosen families that have evolved from new options alone. More experienced family members – those who have been in the family the longest – usually play the role of mother, father, aunt or uncle, but they are not necessarily based on age. For example, sometimes “parents” will take “children” who are older than them. Barnhart said families usually take on new members when more experienced members spot youngsters on the street who see they need help and bring them to Barnhart, which helps them find shelter and other needs Does. He said that many people will also share resources such as money and food stamps and help each other stay safe on the roads.
“They really trust each other, even those who don’t like each other,” Barnarth said. “If there is a danger, our youth tie their differences together. They look for each other. “
Adding to the complexity, people from chosen families may decide to start their own family.
Smith, a transgender man, joined the House of Montage in the late 1990s when he began participating in LGBTQ pageants at local gay clubs and visiting other venues around Jackson. This was one of the events where he met Monta, who became his mentor. Smith has relocated to Atlanta and started a small family of his own – House of Armani – with about 10 people. Before the epidemic, he would meet with the family at the restaurant about once a month, he said, but now he sees her on social media. A medical assistant, Smith said he often reaches younger family members from his younger Jackson and Atlanta families – reminding them to wear masks and socially distance.
“There have been some LGBTQ people who have died in Mississippi, Kovid has died this year, so I want my children to know that this is really real,” he said.
Monta also cares for his family members and encourages them to make sure they have medical and burial insurance. Several members of his family became ill with Kovid-19, he said, although none of them are serious. However, other LGBTQ families in Jackson have lost members of Kovid-19, he said, including a woman in her 30s who was popular in the community. Although she was not a direct member of her family, her death had a “very strong effect”, given how interwoven elected families in Jackson are, she explained.
‘I miss the whole kid right now’
In New York City, LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness were already being pushed to fugitives by raising the cost of living. Now, the epidemic has made survival even more difficult. According to Barnhart, the city has closed many of its public spaces, where young people terrorize or perform for tourists, and many programs have been cut for basic needs such as food and shelter.
Research related to the coronovirus epidemic found that 20 to 45 percent of youth are homeless who are identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer. Among people ages 18 to 25, LGBTQ people are at 2.2 times higher risk of being homeless than their non-LGBTQ peers, according to a brief from the Williams Institute at UCLA Law.
Many of these young adults rely on more than 260 LGBTQ community centers across America for immediate needs. However, during the ongoing health crisis, many of these centers are reducing hours and services or shuttering.
Maryse Pearce, a program manager at the Stonewall Community Foundation, a nonprofit company that provides microgrants for LGBTQ people, said many grants go to young people who have lost family support. Typically, it distributes about 100 microgrants a year, she said, which recipients pay for basic needs such as food and rent. But this year, due to the epidemic, they have delivered several hundred microgrants, mainly in New York City. Pierce said the epidemic is frustrating many of these youth.
“One of the things we have seen in this epidemic is that a lot of the queuing youth are back with families who are not supportive,” she said.
McKenzie said that housing remains unsafe. She recently got a full-time job at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island and is living in a friend’s apartment in the Bronx. His biological mother died of a heart attack in May, he said, after the epidemic ban prevented him from receiving medical care. He said that not being able to see his chosen family during the holidays, as well as his four-hour round-trip work, adds to McKenzie’s stress. On top of that, she said that one of her chosen children – a daughter who is road homeless – has gone missing.
“I’m missing an entire child right now,” McKenzie said, adding that while she is “worried” about the situation, she is optimistic that her daughter will start again.
“You pray for the best, and you hope for the best, [but] Prepare yourself for the worst as possible. “Thank God for keeping your loved ones, and pray that you keep something else, as time goes by.”
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