Jaime Harker couldn’t bear to hear another story like that of Ole Miss student, Reggie Willis, who became homeless and lived on bagged cereal after coming out.
Harker, a professor at Ole Miss and director of the Sara Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, was ultimately moved to start the fund after hearing a former student speak at Lavender Graduation, a graduation ceremony dedication to LGBTQ students and their accomplishments.
“If people on campus don’t know that there are people they can go to for help, then I hate that. It just started to drive me crazy that this was happening and we didn’t know about it and we didn’t have any way to help,” Harker said.
Mississippi is considered one of the states with the worst policies and resources affecting LGBTQ youth, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
“I can’t sit in one more Lavender Graduation and hear a story like this again. We have to figure out how to help LGBTQ kids.”
After over a year of work, Harker has officially launched the LGBTQIA+ Emergency Fund of North Mississippi. Currently, the fund can provide up to $250 worth of emergency funds for housing, groceries or healthcare. The fund is the only fund dedicated to LGBTQ youth in Mississippi.
You can apply for funds at lgbtqiaemergencyfundnms.org.
LGBTQ youth are more likely to be homeless and less likely to have health insurance or access to affirming medical care. A 2021 report from The Trevor Project found 28 percent of LGBTQ youth have experienced homelessness or housing instability at some point in their lives. The numbers are worse for LGBTQ indigenous youth (44 percent), transgender youth (38.5 percent) and other youth with multiple marginalized identities.
Harker said students have told her stories about their parents taking their cars while they were in class or cleaning out their bank accounts after coming out—a fact she finds unconscionable for a highly religious state like Mississippi.
“We’re in a in a place where parents think it’s okay, or even that they’re supposed to cut off their own children because they don’t approve of who they are. I mean, that’s a scandal and a state that is very proud of being Christian. They are being so profoundly unChristian to their own children and to members of their community,” she said.
Additional resources for LGBTQ+ folks: