It’s safe to say that Miley Cyrus has no trouble being herself and speaking her mind. But millions of gay, lesbian, and transgender youth today still cannot say the same. As soon as they reveal their orientations, they see friends and family members walk out on them. But they’ve got a high-profile ally in the pop star. This May, Cyrus debuted the Happy Hippie Foundation, a nonprofit that she launched with a mission to make America a safer and more welcoming place for homeless and LGBT young people alike.
LGBT welfare is a personal issue for Cyrus, who is herself bisexual and “gender-expansive,” e.g., she identifies as both male and female. In interviews, she’s reminisced about when she, at age 14, first acknowledged her feelings for other girls to her mother. While this was a hard truth for her devoutly Christian mother to accept, accept it she did. The pop star and the elder Tish Cyrus are on (relatively speaking) good terms to this day.
She is also passionate about homelessness. She’s never lived on the streets herself, to be clear. But she made international headlines last year when she brought a homeless man as her dinner date to the MTV Music Awards.
And as she also notes in interviews, homelessness and prejudice against LGBT youth very much interconnect. An estimated 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT (note: That’s not just Miley Cyrus’s claim; the Williams Institute and other research groups back it up). Many have been forced out of their homes by families who, unlike Miley Cyrus’ mother, refuse to accept them for who they are. Some can’t even find refuge in the homeless shelters, as the shelter staff refuse to let them in.
Happy Hippie can’t give these youth their families back, but it can and does try to give them some emotional and material support so that they stand a better chance of making it on their own. The organization is currently raising funds to create digital support groups where LGBT young people can meet and connect with each other in safe, supportive environments.
It’s also partnering with community shelters and youth centers to offer at-need young people education opportunities, employment leads, and counseling services. In its first few months of existence, it’s given funding to the California youth shelter My Friend’s Place to offer all homeless youth (LGBT youth included) shelter, clean clothing, creative arts programs, and an animal-companion program.
The foundation’s work has all been in its home state of California so far, but Cyrus expects to expand it nationwide as the year rolls on. And as she does, she will use it to start a wider societal conversation.
“It's not going to be an overnight process. You’ve got to get into a lot of people’s brains and you’ve got to really make this a topic,” she told the Associated Press.