Today marks the 29th anniversary of Lou Ellen “Lou Lou” Couch. 29 years ago, she was murdered on the streets of Downtown Seattle after defending herself and her girlfriend from a group of taunting men, one of whom stabbed her with a knife to her heart. She was 22 years old.
Parts of Lou Lou’s life has been documented, as she was one of the homeless youth featured in Mary Ellen Mark’s 1985 documentary Streetwise. Lou Lou’s young butch bravado and enigmatic personality made her a great subject, and in 2013, AMC’s The Killing borrowed her tragic story for the character of Bullet (played by Bex Taylor-Klaus). Although the narrative was very different from Lou Lou’s life and death, Bullet was as lovable and charming as Lou Lou, and also met a heart wrenching untimely end.
Justin Reed Early knew Lou Lou, as he was one of the homeless teens on the streets of Seattle, too. His book Street Child: A Memoir details a life spent leaving foster care and trying to survive on his own while avoiding the dangers of skid-row, from drugs and violence to pedophiles and serial killers. Justin wrote a piece for The Advocate recently about first meeting Lou Lou, and how she affected him in their brief time together.
Today, on the anniversary of his friend’s death, Justin joins Lou Lou’s brother, Frankie, and surviving girlfriend, Jenny, in remembering their friend, by providing her with a headstone she’s never had; one her parents have never been able to afford her. At 3 pm., Justin will lead a ceremony to celebrate Lou Lou’s life at the Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery in Seattle.
“Some people are blessed with the instinct of authenticity and these people are the game changers and help make the world a better place,” Justin said. “Lou Lou was one of these people and this is why i continue to honor her memory. She was my LGBT ‘Eskimo,’ a dear friend and someone who deserved a better life and opportunities.”
Justin says Lou Lou was an “unsung, massive LGBT hero,” noting that she was always out and lived “an authentic life—always protecting others, especially if they were vulnerable.” Those characteristics are what made Bullet on The Killing such a beloved character, and angering loss.
“I think it shows the impact that she and many others from Streetwise had on American culture,” Justin said of Bullet’s creation based on his friend. “It created a deeper intimate awareness of the world people oftentimes avoided acknowledging or understanding. “
Today, Justin says Seattle has been “instrumental” in helping to create and provide more services for homeless youth, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“Homelessness is still one of the biggest issues that people love to not talk about,” he said. “It’s such a disempowering topic that is intricately intertwined with so many other uncomfortable issues—mental illness, addiction, LGBT bigotry and phobia, poverty—that not many know how to address it intelligently or publicly. It’s such a complicated issue with multiple layers and millions of individual and familial circumstances that’s it’s difficult to discuss with simplicity or sound bites. “
Lou Lou, Frankie and Justin all benefitted from the Seattle-based program Youthcare, which he says “empowers on site education, job training and skills development and provides consistent transitional and nightly crisis (emergency) housing.” Still, it’s difficult for non-profits like Youthcare to help every homeless youth that needs a place to stay, food to eat and other necessities that so many of us take for granted.
“Though we live in an amazing country, there are many who will never have the proper resources or guidance to create positive, sustainable and enjoyable lives,” Justin said. “It’s this lowest tier of struggling Americans we want to inspire and to create better circumstances and outcomes; so their dreams can too become realities.”
There are generations of homeless lesbian and queer youths just like Lou Lou who are in danger of befalling the same fate. Lou Lou would want nothing more than the help and protection of these teens, especially as the winter weather comes on with dangerously low temperatures and freezing rain and snow. You can help in your own community by finding an organization near you and volunteering some time or donating money or goods like clothing, toiletries and non-perishables. The Ali Forney Center website has a great list of resources around the United States.
Rest in power, dear Lou Lou. May you have not died in vain.