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All of us have the same basic needs, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Our survival is dependent only on our ability to access food, shelter and healthcare. In a nation as prosperous and democratic as ours, one would expect these necessities to be easily and equitably available. And yet they are not. In reality, the experience frequently falls short of the expectation, especially for youth.

On the Streets

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender homeless youth, awake each day with one goal in mind. Survival. They surf from couch to couch, bounce from shelter to shelter, and when no other options are available, they sleep in parks, beneath viaducts and in abandoned buildings. Imagine feeling uncertain about where to go for help or reluctant to ask for it. While social services may seem like a viable resource, many homeless youth have had negative past experiences with social services, and gay and transgender youth in particular may not feel safe accessing these types of services [1].

The expectation: That gay and transgender youth rejected by their families can find help through social services.

The experience: That those who lose their family often get lost in the system.

Accessing Services

Services, like shelters and drop-in centers, may protect gay and transgender residents from natural elements, but they don’t always protect them from social stigmas. Imagine suffering from discrimination and harassment at the hand of those who are supposed to protect you. And while there are short- and long-term facilities that do a good job of providing support to homeless gay and transgender youth, such as the many providers in our Online Directory, not all are as inclusive and safe as they should be. In some cases, gay and transgender youth are singled out, with one residential placement facility forcing gay and transgender residents to wear orange jumpsuits as a “warning” to all others at the shelter [2].

The expectation: That all service providers welcome and support gay and transgender homeless youth. 

The experience: That discrimination and harassment remain issues in some shelters, drop-in centers and other types of agencies working with homeless and at-risk youth.

Victims of Vulnerability

Vulnerability is a gay and transgender homeless young person’s biggest fear and greatest enemy. On the streets, gay youth are more likely than their straight peers to suffer from physical, sexual and substance abuse, as well as sexual exploitation [3]. Imagine being so desperate that you feel you must trade sex for protection, drugs or food. This behavior can set a vicious cycle in motion. One study found that “youth who experienced more sexual abuse were likely to affiliate with deviant peers, trade sex, and report numerous sexual partners on the streets [4].” Not surprisingly, this type of risky behavior has been shown to increase the risk of sexual victimization [5], launching the cycling all over again.

The expectation: That there is a risk of family rejection when gay and transgender youth “come out.”

The experience: That there is a risk of physical, sexual and substance abuse when gay and transgender youth become homeless.

Targets of Abuse

Research shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth face victimization at home, at school, at their jobs, on the street and in homeless shelters [6]. And because of the social stigmas associated with being gay or transgender, these young people are more frequently targeted for physical and sexual abuse than their straight peers. In fact, in one study, nearly 60% of gay and transgender homeless youth reported being sexually victimized compared to 33% of straight homeless youth. Imagine never feeling completely comfortable or safe in your surroundings.

The expectation: That school, business and community leaders will responsibly step up and step in to prevent the victimization of gay and transgender youth in their organizations and communities.

The experience: That the equal and safe treatment of gay and transgender homeless is not enough of a priority.

Barriers to Healthcare

For gay and transgender homeless youth, healthcare can feel like health “I don’t care.” As a whole, these youth are underserved due to a shortage of clinics and facilities that cater to their unique health needs and because of some healthcare providers’ refusal to treat minors without parental consent. Imagine being “treated” by medical professionals who are untrained and unaware of the health risks and health needs of gay and transgender people, or being denied treatment by doctors who’ve taken an oath to support all who are in need of healthcare services simply because their clinic has a policy against treating unaccompanied minors.

The expectation: That basic healthcare should be available to all. 

The experience: That many healthcare facilities do not adequately serve gay and transgender homeless youth.

Reasons and Solutions

By working together to build greater awareness and understanding of issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender homeless youth and the reasons they are no longer living in their homes, we can change the experience. We can meet expectations. And someday, by focusing on viable solutions, we can end youth homelessness.


[1] Pannella Winn, L. (2010). Learning From The Field: Programs Serving Youth Who Are LGBTQI2-S and Experiencing Homelessness. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
[2] Ray, N. (2006). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless.
[3] Quintana, N. (2010). On the Streets: The Federal Response to Gay and Transgender Homeless Youth. Center For American Progress.
[4-6] Ray, N. (2006). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless.

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