There’s been a lot of talk lately about a “fiscal showdown,” but frankly, I think the conversation could use some shaking up. Politicians repeat the same dry talking points about an abstract debt ceiling, “discretionary funds” and tax implications for people making an embarrassing amount of money. It all makes the consequences seem far removed from the reality of our daily lives. But what’s happening in D.C. right now isn’t just about numbers, and isn’t just important to talking heads. This is something different altogether.
The situation is this: If Washington can’t break deadlock on budget policy, automatic budget cuts are going to inflict real harm on real people that rely on federally funded programs. Those “discretionary funds” that amount to little more than numbers on a page to some go to support programs that improve the lives of many people who have been pushed to the margins of society. And what’s close to my heart – and why I’m paying attention to this fiscal showdown – is that the stakes are especially high for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth who need our help to stay safe.
Even though they comprise only 5 percent to 7 percent of all youth in America, LGBT youth represent up to 40 percent of all homeless youth. This figure is shocking in itself. But even worse is that this problem is driven primarily by family rejection at a time when these young people are physically, financially and materially dependent on their parents.
In most cities across the country, resources to help LGBT youth are already scarce, and every night, thousands of young people are left to sleep on the street and find their own way through the dark. Cuts in federal funding for the programs that already stretch every dollar to help these kids would make this bad situation even worse. To think that these youth, who have already suffered rejection from their families, could be turned away from programs meant to give them a safe place to stay is an absolute outrage.
And those cuts are just the beginning. If the fiscal showdown isn’t resolved by the end of the year, funding will be slashed for federal agencies working to combat bullying and school violence against LGBT students, and will reduce financial aid and job placement programs that are critical bridges for LGBT youth who want to start a career or go to college. This is unacceptable.
While some members of Congress have recognized that this budget issue is a matter of life or death for many Americans, including LGBT youth, the House majority continues to hold onto their vows to protect the wealthiest Americans from tax increases. I am one of those Americans, and I do not need protecting. I am fully prepared to pay my fair share to ensure our country gets back on track. And by the way, these are the same House leaders who last summer required the same type of wholesale cuts set to go into effect in return for raising our nation’s debt ceiling.
So, while this budget standoff may sound like a problem just for Washington bureaucrats, it is actually much bigger than that. It impacts every person, every community, all of us – gay and straight, young and old. And we need to do something about it.
We need to cut through the abstract jargon and tell Congress to set aside partisan differences and adopt a sustainable plan that protects life-saving services for LGBT youth and other marginalized populations, including senior citizens, people of color and women. If they can’t do that by the end of the year, then a short-term agreement delaying budget cuts should be put in place to give the next Congress a chance to agree on a long-term fiscal solution.
We all need to make sure Washington hears us on this one – for ourselves and for youth who are struggling and lack a voice of their own. There’s too much at stake to simply tune this out. We need to make some noise of our own.
Cyndi Lauper is a Grammy and Emmy award-winning artist and the co-founder of the True Colors Fund, which works to inspire everyone, especially straight people, to get involved in advancing equality for all and, through its Forty to None Project, raise awareness about and bring an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth homelessness. To learn more, visit www.truecolorsfund.org.