Gay Christian singing duo helps homeless youth
by Marene Gustin • Photo by Scott Ashton
It’s not enough that married singing duo Jason and deMarco tour, record, and even star in Showtime’s documentary We’re All Angels. Now they’re turning into real-life angels for homeless youth.
In June of this year, the couple’s new Houston-based organization—Safe, Affirming, Family Environment (S.A.F.E.)—received its IRS nonprofit status. “S.A.F.E. Spots” are being formed as meeting places for S.A.F.E. support groups and other special events, as well as a drop-in resource center where youth and young adults can get free food, clothes, books, Internet access, job leads, and other resources.
The organization will also eventually provide S.A.F.E houses, certified LGBT-friendly foster families, and other families that are willing to take in young people who are aging out of the foster program. Tens of thousands of 18-year-olds are forced out of the foster system every year, many with nowhere to go and no resources. S.A.F.E. is also planning a program called Helping Intended Parents (HIP) that will help couples navigate the adoption and fostering process.
“Over our eight years of touring and spreading our musical message, we’ve received thousands of e-mails from teens and young people,” says Jason Warner. “Last year a young man e-mailed me. He had come out and been kicked out of his home. Finally a friend’s mother took him in. A couple of months later she contacted me to say he had killed himself.
“That’s when I said it’s time to do this.”
With the recent spate of teen suicides connected to antigay bullying, Jason and deMarco have become even more committed to providing a safe haven for those in need. “I wonder,” Jason says, “if those young people had a S.A.F.E. Spot to go to, could they have been saved?”
While Houston has many resources for LGBT homeless teens and youth, there’s no place that offers safe housing options—something Jason knows is important from personal experience. “I was kicked out of my band [in 1998 while we were on the road],” he says. “I was stranded in Houston and I had nowhere to live. I met a man who let me live in his apartment building in exchange for working in the office. That allowed me to get back on my feet.
“The community is urging kids to come out younger and younger, and often they get bullied and kicked out of their homes. The shelters can be dangerous, especially for transgendered kids, so it’s about time we gave them safe places to live, and resources. It’s the least we can do.”
S.A.F.E. will work with other local organizations. Already they are networking at the monthly meetings that the Montrose Counseling Center holds for support groups, and they will hold a fundraising Christmas concert on December 18 at Bering Memorial United Methodist Church.
S.A.F.E. has already hired a director for its first S.A.F.E. Spot, which will open at a soon-to-be-announced location in January 2011. Jason has adopted a staff training program from a similar community program in another state, and will use strict policies and procedures to keep the staff and clients safe. Youth must sign a policy agreement and receive an ID card before accessing services.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work for a young couple, it is. But it’s a labor of love. “We’re taking some time off from the road,” Jason says. “We’re still recording, and we just finished a music video for the single ‘Safe,’ from our last album. And we’ll be doing a new Christmas album next year.”
The couple also works at Houston’s Unity Church of Christianity, where they are the staff contemporary worship coordinators and Jason is the youth and young adult leader. “But if we weren’t busy, we’d go crazy,” says Jason.
And there’s even more to come. The Helping Intended Parents (HIP) portion of S.A.F.E. has special meaning to Jason and deMarco because they are planning to start their own family. “We’re looking at our options right now,” Jason says. “So we’ll have news on that soon.”
In the meantime, they’re making plans to take their S.A.F.E. program national, and there’s even a Facebook campaign to get Jason and deMarco on the Ellen show to talk about S.A.F.E.
Christmas Concert Fundraiser
Jason and deMarco will present a holiday concert on December 18 at Bering Memorial United Methodist Church, benefitting S.A.F.E. and Bering’s Open Gate Ministry. A silent auction begins at 1 p.m., and the concert is at 2 p.m. Homeless youth are welcome and will be given Christmas gifts and food. There is no admission fee, but donations will be accepted. The group has already raised more than $36,000, and is hoping to raise $100,000 by the end of the year. For more information, log on to safehouseforall.org.
Marene Gustin is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.