Fleeing home at the age of 13, Ali Forney (1975-1997) was a homeless gender non-conforming (GNC) youth of color who survived through street work. Forney used the “he” pronoun as Ali and the “she” pronoun as Luscious. At around 3:00 A.M. on December 5, 1997, Forney was shot and murdered near the housing project at the northeast corner of East 135th Street and Fifth Avenue in Harlem. As with numerous murders of transgender and GNC people of color before and after that time, the killing received little press and the case has never been solved.
In 2002, Carl Siciliano founded the Ali Forney Center (AFC), a shelter for homeless LGBT youth, in Forney’s memory.
“I spend about an hour just walking slowly up and down the block [where Ali was murdered]. I say my rosary and I say my prayers for Ali and I ask him to look down with love and mercy and help us protect these kids.”
Siciliano had previously been the director of a homeless youth drop-in center in Times Square known as Safe Space, which is where he met and befriended Forney in 1994. At that time, a Roman Catholic organization provided the only shelter in New York City for homeless youth, but those who were LGBT did not feel welcome there. Instead, many chose to live on the streets, with prostitution as their only means of economic survival. After the cleanup of Times Square, they relocated to other neighborhoods, such as Harlem and the South Bronx.
According to the AFC website, Forney “educated anyone he encountered about HIV prevention and safe sex” and “was well known by the police because he aggressively advocated that the NYPD investigate a series of murders of other homeless queer youth he had befriended.” Forney’s work continues at the AFC, which has grown from six cots in a church basement to multiple transitional living and emergency housing sites in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Drop-in centers also provide medical care and mental health treatment. The AFC staff notes that it is the largest shelter and housing program for LGBT youth in the country and, likely, the world.