David Serikawa is a man with a mission.
The 33 year-old former Army soldier from Boone, NC, is founding Hampton Roads’ first and only homeless shelter for the LGBTQ community. He pulls on his own painful experiences to propel him through the legal and financial demands of the venture.
All of which is quite impressive considering where he came from. As a child in Appalachia, he knew that he was different. So did his family and friends.
“I was bullied by my older sister, while I bullied my younger brother and younger sister,” he said. “While I got along fairly well with my parents, they were your typical conservative Southerners.” Multiple family members as well as a schoolmate sexually abused him.
It wasn’t until the ninth grade that he fully recognized that he is gay. Out of fear he continued to hide it, all the while growing more isolated and depressed.
“Boone can be a very homophobic and racist place,” he said. “If it was not for Appalachian State University, there would be very little diversity in my hometown. “
Shortly after his 15th birthday, he slowly pushed open the closet door only to be informed by a close family member, “All gay men are child molesting faggots.”
Somehow he mustered the courage to come out to his parents. The news then spread through the small town quickly.
“At this point, I was the first and only kid in my high school to come out of the closet,” he said.
The response was overwhelmingly negative. Soon afterwards, he was met with multiple assaults by other students and derision from family members. The pressure was too much, and he soon dropped out of school.
For two years he stayed in Boone, dealing with a variety of complicated issues and feeling like a pariah. He then decided to leave his hometown. He landed a job at McDonalds and moved out of his parents’ home. Over the next year, he methodically saved his money.
“I knew I had to break free from what I have always called ‘my own personal hell’, ” he said.
When he was 17, he met a man online who was looking for a roommate to share his home with him and his boyfriend in Newport News. After talking online several times, they offered him the room and a ride from Boone and Virginia if he paid for gas.
“I immediately started packing,” he said. “I had to get away from the homophobia, or I was going to die.”
After arriving in Hampton Roads he soon found himself in the middle of a jealous triangle with his new roommates. Within two weeks, they asked him to leave. For the next couple of months, he bounced around from place to place.
“I stayed with anyone I met online who offered, while I tried to figure out what my next move was going to be,” he said. “It was a scary existence, to say the least.”
He soon met a man who offered him a more permanent place to stay with no expectations. This relationship became the foundation beneath David’s feet that he needed so desperately.
“We were together nearly eight years, and to this day I can call him for help of any kind,” he said.
When he was 23, David made the decision to join the Army. He served for six years at the peak of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” era. It was repealed within months of his release.
After leaving the army he returned to his hometown to be with his father who had been diagnosed with cancer. Soon after, he returned to Hampton Roads where he put his education benefits to work earning an Associate degree in Criminal Justice and Forensic Technology. He’s currently on track to finish his Bachelor’s degree in Project Management then plans to study for a Master’s in Psychology.
He also found his husband, Joseph Serikawa, a Navy man. The two were married in August 2014.
“There was a time I had no hope that I would ever find the space and the people who would allow me to be myself,” he said. “Sometimes I can’t believe I actually found both.”
With the help of hindsight, David attributes his life’s challenges to his desire to establish Rainbow Wings in 2014. His vision for the shelter is a non-sectarian transitional and long-term facility specifically for the LGBTQ community. It will offer temporary housing, transportation, counseling, and independent living supportive services.
“It’s not surprising to me that almost 40 percent of America’s homeless youth are members of the queer community,” he said “I experienced the severe family conflict that’s usually cited as the primary reason for their homelessness. “
Other statistics show that LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12. They are at exponentially higher risk for suicide, substance abuse, and mental health issues.
That’s just the beginning of the hazards that face the LGBT homeless. According to the National Coalition for Homeless, LGBTQ persons have great difficulty finding shelters that accept and respect them. They are at a heightened risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation in traditional shelters. Transgender people are particularly at physical risk due to a lack of acceptance and are often turned away from shelters. In some cases signs have been posted barring their entrance.
David has discovered that outside of Atlanta and Washington DC, there are no LGBTQ shelters serving the mid-Atlantic region. While no research is available for LGBTQ homelessness in Hampton Roads, David has anecdotal knowledge that proves the need here is substantial.
The Rainbow Wings project is still in its initial seed money stage, which will allow David to find and purchase a location for the shelter. He has incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) and is currently in fundraising mode. The next local fundraiser is on September 23 at the HerShee Bar in Norfolk.
With an initial fundraising goal of $150,000 by the end of 2017, David knows the road ahead will be challenging. But he’s determined.
“I spent time as one of the homeless, and I came into contact with many people who were in the same situation,” he said. “If Rainbow Wings can help keep one of those people off the street and give them a jump start into a new life, it will have succeeded.”
WANT TO HELP?
Rainbow Wings Benefit at the Hershee Bar
Hosted by Jennifer Warner
Friday, September 23, 10 PM