I don’t know why, but humans believe that if we don’t talk about something or can’t see something, it doesn’t exist.
Take England, for example. According to The Guardian writer Alex Andreou (2015), “anti-homeless” spikes were introduced in front of an apartment complex in London in 2014. They were removed thanks to a protest and petition, only to be reintroduced outside of a store in Manchester the following year (Andreou, 2015).
In his article, Andreou also shared how heartbroken he’d been when the one safe and comfortable bench where he slept while homeless himself became a “convex metal perch, with three solid armrests” (2015).
The embodiment of, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
I’m guilty of this myself, and I’m sure you are as well. No, maybe we haven’t constructed “anti-homeless” structures. But I promise you, most of us have turned a blind eye to a homeless person at least once.
“Selys,” you may ask as you shift uncomfortably, “why are we even talking about this article at all? It’s from years ago!”
Let me tell you, my friend.
I remembered these stories last month when I heard about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signing the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. According to the NPR writer Jaclyn Diaz (2022), the law is “meant to allow parents to determine when and in what way to introduce LGBTQ topics to their children.”
In other words? Allowing some parents to never introduce LGBTQ topics to their children.
Here’s the thing, though.
Not seeing homeless people doesn’t solve homelessness. Not talking about LGBTQ topics in school doesn’t erase non-heterosexualism. “Anti-homeless” spikes and heterosexualist legislation are temporary solutions, if that, to a much larger problem.
And the problem isn’t the homeless or LGBTQ people. It’s the disheartening circumstances that lead to a person losing their housing. It’s the homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic attitudes towards the LGBTQ population just for existing.
Now, while I’ve never been homeless, I can at least speak to the LGBTQ experience myself.
Last year, when one of my family members found out that I’m bisexual, they basically disowned me. My mom too for supporting me. That sounds harsh, I know. But how else can I summarize this person’s actions? I went from seeing this person and their kids weekly, from babysitting regularly and spending hours together on holidays, to not being allowed alone with the kids and spending 20 supervised minutes together on Christmas.
To this day, I haven’t seen them for four months and counting.
A mutual friend of ours tried to encourage this family member to fix the relationship between us. Want to know what my family member said? They never wanted to discuss the topic again.
Their very own “Don’t Say Bi” law.
Guess what, though? I can 100% promise you this, dear ladies and gentlemen and non-binary folk. Even though my family member is avoiding me like the walking representation of hedonism and sin I apparently am. Even though my family member never wants to talk about my sexuality again. I am still bisexual.
Look. If avoiding seeing and saying things worked, then it would’ve already. Taboo topics have existed for millennia. Divorce. Pre-marital sex. Periods. Abortion. Mental health. Disabilities. Alcohol and drug addiction. Being a single parent. Having a kid out of wedlock. You name it!
Now, I can’t speak about all cultures, so let me focus on the US.
Americans struggle to talk about and face many of these topics to this day. Sure, we can keep trying to avoid them until we’re red, white, and blue in the face, but they still exist. Some are not a big deal anymore. Others continue to carry baggage and stigma. Why? Because avoiding taboo topics creates worse problems than the topics themselves.
Let me say that again. Avoiding taboo topics creates worse problems than the topics themselves.
We seem to think that if we voice something “awful”, we give it power. Most mental health professionals would probably agree that this does the exact opposite. It gives that unspoken thing more power because it’s controlling you out of fear. It’s why talk therapy works for so many people. Not all, but many.
I actually would argue, though, that voicing something can give it power, but the good kind. It’s that exact power that allows for healing, connection, and community to occur.
Besides, as a society, when are we going to grow out of the peek-a-boo stage? You know what I’m talking about. The age when babies think an adult disappeared when they hide behind their hands.
Object permanence at its finest.
Wait, do you know what that is? That’s the social worker in me making assumptions. Let me turn to my good friend, WebMD. Object permanence is “the development milestone” that occurs “when a baby is around eight months old” which “involves understanding that items and people still exist even when you can’t see or hear them” (WebMD, 2021).
Hold up. Let me read that again: “items and people still exist even when you can’t see or hear them” (WebMD, 2021). Can someone please find me whoever made the “anti-homeless” spikes in England? I need to show them this WebMD article I found on the internet!
Can we all just agree that avoidance is a temporary solution? Like a bandaid on a gushing wound. Like trying to create a dam with a toothpick. It’s useless! Sure, it’ll stop a minuscule amount of blood or water from getting through, but it doesn’t solve the problem at all. Not only in the long run, either. But now. Right now.
Because as uncomfortable as a homeless person sleeping on the street makes us? We are 100% more comfortable than that person. And as uncomfortable as some parents are when their kids learn about the LGBTQ community? Those parents are 100% more comfortable than the kids struggling with their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
And in the long run? That homeless person could die on the street just because some of us don’t want to see them. One of those kids can grow up internalizing hatred and fear until they die by suicide. All because they didn’t feel safe coming out at home. All because they had no one to turn to at school. The only other place they spent more time at than at their house.
Oh yeah, suicide is one of those taboo topics, too. And contrary to popular belief, as the National Association of Mental Illness explains, talking about suicide does not cause suicide. It does the exact opposite because you can’t get treatment for suicidal ideation unless you can voice those struggles first (Fuller, 2020).
Anyway, I’ve ranted on for long enough. Let me wrap up.
There’s not much I can do about “anti-homeless” spikes in England or the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida—that is, outside of my basic advocacy efforts. (Where’s a petition when you need one, am I right?)
But here’s what I can do.
If I’m unable to give money or food to a homeless person, or stop to have a conversation, I can at least meet their eyes and offer a smile. I can acknowledge their existence. I can recognize them as human. Like Father Murray Powell says in Dr. Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong, “When you look away from a homeless person, you diminish their humanity and your own” (p. 308).
It’s the least I can do and I don’t deserve any kind of merit for it.
Here’s what else I can do. I can continue to exist openly in all my bisexual pride. I can be a haven for LGBTQ youth. And I can keep trying to lead by example as not only part of the queer community but also the queer, Christian, and Latinx community specifically.
(Yes. That’s a thing. It’s called intersectionality. Look it up.)
Last but not least, I can continue to speak the truth about my history of suicide survival. How a conversation with God and my therapist got me off a five-story garage ledge. How I lived another day, and then another, until today, and I hope many more to come.
But that’s a story for another time.
I’ll end with this. These steps I just mentioned? I can do these things. It’s how I can live out my life motto to do as much good as I can for as long as I can and try to leave this world at least a little better than when I entered it.
What about you?
Andreou, A. (2015, Feb. 18). Anti-homeless spikes: ‘Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city’s barbed cruelty’. The Guardian. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/18/defensive-architecture-keeps-poverty-undeen-and-makes-us-more-hostile
Brown, B. (2015). Rising Strong: How the ability to reset transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Random House.
Diaz, J. (2022, March 28). Florida’s governor signs controversial law opponents dubbed ‘don’t say gay’. NPR. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/2022/03/28/1089221657/dont-say-gay-florida-desantis
Fuller, K. (2020, Sept. 30). 5 common myths about suicide debunked. National Association of Mental Illness. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2020/5-Common-Myths-About-Suicide-Debunked
WebMD Editorial Contributors (2021, March 9). What age do babies have object permanence? WebMD. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/baby/what-age-do-babies-have-object-permanence
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