The impact of LGBTIQ+ Homelessness

Up to 1.6 million young people experience homelessness in the United States every year. Forty percent of them identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender), according to a 2012 study conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law. Australian statistics are scant, however Brisbane Youth Service, which has been collecting its own statistics which suggest about 13% of the young people it helps are LGBTIQ+ Kids Under Cover doesn’t have figures for Australian LGBT homeless young people, however there is little reason to doubt they face similar obstacles. It’s estimated that LGBT youth represent about 7 percent of the population, which puts that 40 percent figure into heartbreaking context.

Once homeless, life for LGBTIQ+ young people is even more dangerous than for their non-LGBT counterparts. Fifty-eight per cent report having been sexually assaulted on streets or in shelters, compared to 33% of non-LGBTIQ+ young people. Conditions for homeless transgender persons are worst of all as they are more likely to have been incarcerated, more likely to have done sex work, to be HIV-positive and to have attempted suicide (69%) than transgender persons who are not homeless. Nearly one-third report having been turned away from shelters because they are transgender, and 42% report being forced to stay in facilities for the wrong gender.

A sociologist who has been working with LGBTIQ+ homeless youth for a year and a half, I have seen that family instability is the common pattern that marks their lives. “I’ve found that the rejection of an LGBTIQ+ child operates differently in marginalized families — not because poor and working-class families are more prejudiced, but because they contend with structural constraints that generate particular ways of responding to and enforcing society’s gender and sexual norms”.

Services for LGBTIQ+ homeless youth, which focus on family rejection, assist parents in understanding and accepting the youth’s sexual and/or gender identity to attempt to reunify families. Education is important, but these interventions do not address the fact that LGBTIQ+ homeless youth come from over-looked and under-resourced families overwhelmed by poverty and instability. Our norms around gender and sexuality in congruence with stigmatizing and not assisting the poor do not allow for much acceptance, love, and support for LGBTIQ+ youth from impoverished contexts. Ultimately, we need more nuanced solutions that highlight the intersections of being LGBTIQ+ within contexts of familial poverty and racial inequality to prevent and end LGBTIQ+ youth homelessness.

LGBTI communities and common mental health issues

You may have to deal with difficult issues relating to work, to relationships, to finances, housing and everything else. On top of that, you may face issues relating specifically to sexuality such as:

  • homophobic or transphobic attitudes from others
  • your own internalised phobias or self-image
  • trauma from bullying, abuse or alienated from your family and friends
  • stress that builds up as a result of feeling different, or from being on your guard the whole time

You may feel comfortable to define your sexuality, be that gay, straight, transgendered, bi-sexual, or something else. You might find it takes time to fully understand your own sexuality. Going through that process can be difficult and uncertain. There may be times when you feel alone, or feel as if nobody will understand or accept you.

If you feel like that, you are not alone. There are many people in the lesbian, gay, bi, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community in Australia. There are also some great organisations out there that support and represent members of the LGBTI community who have mental health issues.

Where to get help

If you need someone to talk to, or want to find out more, these organisations can help you. Many have specific support for people who are LGBTI.

  • Out & Online (ages 18-25) – online help for same-gender attracted youth
  • QLife (counselling and referral service for LGBTI people) – call 1800 184 527 or chat online
  • beyondblue (for anyone feeling depressed or anxious) – call 1300 22 4636 or chat online
  • headspace (mental health service for ages 12-25) – call 1800 650 890 or chat online
  • ReachOut.com (youth mental health service) – visit the website for info or use the online forum.
  • Lifeline (support for anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14 or chat online
  • Suicide Call Back Service (for anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467

You may also be interested in visiting these sites:

  • ACON – for LGBTI health and HIV prevention and support
  • PFLAG – Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

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