Minneapolis nonprofit seeks host homes for transgender youth traveling to Minnesota

A Pride flag overlooking the rotunda
May Hser and Roger Rogne hold a Pride flag overlooking the rotunda during a Trans Day of Visibility rally at the Minnesota State Capitol building on March 31. As other states issue bans for gender-affirming care, Minnesota has become a safe haven for transgender youth and adults.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

A new law establishes Minnesota as a “trans refuge state,” and as other states pass bans on gender-affirming care, Minneapolis nonprofit Avenues for Youth says it's fielding more calls from transgender youth who are coming to Minnesota for care and need a place to stay. It’s asking Minnesotans to help by hosting them.

Ryan Berg runs the nonprofit's ConneQT program, and spoke with All Things Considered host Tom Crann about the need for host homes.

Listen to their conversation using the audio player above or read a transcript of it below. Both have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Avenues for Youth has already been working to house homeless LGBTQ+ youth and connect them with resources. How has that work changed in the in the last month or two?

We've heard a lot of great stories about families moving to Minnesota to ensure that children are having access to gender-affirming care that they need, which is a beautiful thing. But there are many young folks who don't have that same opportunity.

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LGBTQI youth are already disproportionately affected by homelessness. Fewer than one in three trans and nonbinary youth come from gender-affirming homes. So many youth don't have that same access to resources and support, and if they are migrating into Minnesota to receive that gender-affirming care, they may find themselves homeless.

You say you've been getting more calls about this. Who's calling and what are they asking for?

We've received a lot of calls from young people themselves from different states that are affected by the anti-trans bills that have been passed. So youth from Texas, Florida, Missouri and South Dakota are all calling and saying that they need access to this gender-affirming care, but yet they don't have the resources or support to make that move and they're looking for resources and housing through us.

Is it possible to quantify this growing need?

It's hard to say, but we definitely have seen an uptick in numbers. Within a week, to have five young people call — and that number keeps rising — it's concerning and we just don't have the necessary infrastructure to address that need.

We often think of gender affirming care as either surgery or hormone treatment, but it's broader than that. What else might people be looking to travel here to Minnesota for?

It could be as basic as having a mental health specialist who is affirming and who is culturally responsive to the needs of that young person. It could be living [or going to school] in an environment where a young person's identity as affirmed and they don't have to censor aspects of who they are in order to get their needs met. All of that is being plucked away by the legislative and cultural assault on LGBTQI youth.

What are you doing to make sure that the youth who come here are safe in the host homes you're looking for and looking to provide?

We do background checks, we do interviews, we ask for references and there is 16 hours of training, which goes over the context of youth homelessness. We're talking about trauma and resiliency, positive youth development and then turning the lens inward and looking at, why do I want to show up and do this work? What does it mean to share my space with a young person? And what if my expectations aren't met and what would that mean for me?

It's really a form of mutual aid and built on the the idea of solidarity rather than charity, so youth get to pick which host home they would like to live in and meet those hosts. And then they provide food and shelter. We provide wraparound services and support, case management and help youth meet their own personal goals and needs.

Typically within our program, we work with young people ages 16 to 24. If we do work with a minor, we ask that a Delegation of Parental Authority form is filled out, so a guardian is signing off on allowing the host to provide support around systems such as education and health care.

The bill that was passed in the state prevents officials and courts from complying with child removal requests, arrests, extraditions and subpoenas related to gender-affirming health care that that person may receive in Minnesota.

We're still unsure of how that's going to roll out and play out, but our goal really is to ensure that, that young person is feeling supported and secure as much as possible and we'll do what we can to advocate for them.

So as things roll out here in the new law, what are you doing to make sure you're on the right side of the law?

So we'll do our best to ensure that we're doing our due diligence to connect with legal guardians to ensure that they understand where their child is if their child has fled the state. You know, typically, the only people that have been reaching out to me have not been minors; they've been around 18 to 20 years old.

But again, if we do encounter a young person who is a minor, we'll do our best to ensure that we're following the correct procedures to ensure that everyone's on the same page.

Can you give us an example of how this host home program has worked serving homeless LGBTQ+ youth in Minnesota?

It originated in 1997 and it was really a community-based response to LGBTQI youth homelessness, recognizing that there was this overrepresentation of queer and trans youth experiencing homelessness and they were not wanting to access shelter spaces because of violence, discrimination and harassment due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

So this is a real grassroots effort for the community to step up and say, ‘We want to be able to support our youth.’ We know that healing is rooted in relationship and connection, and that's a real goal of ours. And what we see bear out from that is, in the last two years, around 100 percent of youth in ConneQT have moved into stable housing.