By Malaya Mason and Anthony Green
Special to the Washington Blade
WASHINGTON -- As a young gay black man living in the city’s Southeast district, Arthur Halmon-Daniels felt the only people he could tell about his sexuality were his immediate family.
In Southeast, he said, gay people are frequently verbally abused and disrespected. He hoped he’d be safe in coming out to his relatives.
But when he did -- and some of them rejected him -- he ended up homeless.
His mother was the angriest, he said in a recent interview: “She called me every name in the book…it was mind-numbingly hard to deal with it -- the backlash, the hatred, the bigotry. It really sticks with me.”
Halmon-Daniels is one of the many LGBTQ+ youth who are forced into homelessness due to their sexual or gender identity, and face accompanying health risks such as sexually transmitted infections and substance abuse.
LBGTQ+ youth faced a much higher risk of homelessness even before the pandemic. Now, with families forced into closer quarters, the problem has been exacerbated.
Halmon-Daniels, 24, became homeless gradually over the past two years, as increasing conflict at home led to him spending more and more nights on the street.
He recently found shelter in a transitional housing program after months at Casa Ruby, a nonprofit that provides shelter, preventative health and social services to LGBTQ+ youth.
But his time on the street took a toll: He said it helped make him an alcoholic.
‘I drank to make it easier’
At age 14, Halmon-Daniels came out to his father and his younger brother. They were supportive. But his father was killed in the Washington Navy Yard massacre in 2013, and his mother never accepted his sexuality, he said.
One day, he recalled, “She said I had to go.’’ Eventually she relented, he said. But, due to his sexuality, he said, she subjected him to constant insults, occasional calls to the police, and periodic evictions.
For years, when his mother threw him out, he’d sleep anywhere he could, including friends’ homes and the bar where he worked. He even slept on the park bench of a bus stop at the Anacostia subway station.
That, Halmon-Daniels said, was when he became reliant on alcohol to calm his nerves: “I drank to make it easier, because the first time I had to sleep on a park bench I was scared. I just kept waking up. Then I got a bottle the next day, then the next day, and the next day – drinking to fall asleep.’’
After years of fighting with his mother, he’d had enough: “One day I just said, ‘No more.’ I lashed out at my mother. I said, ‘That’s not right.’’’ He went online looking for homeless shelters, and Casa Ruby popped up. He packed his things and left home. He was 22.
But by then, he said, he was drinking all the time: “I drank to feel numb.’’
Mother and child reunion
In his four months at Casa Ruby, Halmon-Daniels said, he became more secure and self-confident, thanks in large part to the shelter’s rules and expectations. “But you have to get yourself together,’’ he added. “It’s up to you.’’
Now that he’s in transitional housing, he’s trying to become financially self-sufficient. And, in what he calls a “sad irony,’’ he’s caring for the mother who rejected him.
“She’s alone,’’ he said. “She put me out and did horrible things to me. But I only got one mom.’’
His mother, Priscilla Halmon-Daniels, admits she reacted poorly to her son’s sexuality: When she learned, she said, "I was shocked - stunned. Everybody knew but me!''
But now, she says, “I love him, even though he's a gay man. I love him with all my heart and soul, no matter who he's sleeping with. He's still my 10-pound, 2-ounce baby boy.''
Halmon-Daniels said he’s also begun to deal with his personal problems. With assistance from a Casa Ruby caseworker, he’s undergone alcohol detox; been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and chronic anxiety; and begun taking psychiatric medication. “Casa Ruby saved my life,’’ he said.
Next, he plans to join a 12-stepgroup and get a personal sponsor.
Despite the ordeal of being homeless, Halmon-Daniels continues to have an optimistic view of the world: “Every day,’’ he explained, I say it’s going to be better tomorrow.”
Mason and Green are high school students at Randallstown High School in Baltimore and Bard High School Early College in Washington, D.C. They were participants in Urban Health Media Project’s workshop, “Home Sick: How Where We Live Impacts Health” in Spring of 2021. UHMP students Sarah Gandluri, Sydney Johnson, Noah Pangaribuan and Diamond LaPrince contributed to this story.