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Reasons

The issue of homelessness is complicated.

And when it’s young people who are homeless, it’s especially difficult to imagine how and why. Here are some of the reasons we know about why so many — too many — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are homeless.

Family

If there is one place in the world where a person should not have to earn love, acceptance and support, it is at home among family. And yet, it is at home where many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people first experience rejection.

One in four lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender young people are thrown out of their homes because of conflict with family members over their sexual orientation or gender identity. And because they are “coming out” at much younger ages (14-16 years old versus 19-24 in the ‘70s), most are still dependent on their families to meet their material needs. For them, losing family is the same as losing hope [1].

But there’s more to family rejection than emotional pain. Nearly 30% of these young people also experience physical pain – assaulted by a parent or family member who cannot understand or accept their sexual orientation [2].

Foster Care & Juvenile Justice Systems

While the concept of fostering youth is noble, the reality is that it sometimes fails gay and transgender youth. Institutional prejudice, lack of provider and foster parent training, and discrimination against gay and transgender youth are all barriers to quality care in child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Even more concerning is a perceived lack of safety.

Results from a study by Gerald Mallon, a noted expert in the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender welfare, indicate a constant threat of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender harassment and violence exists in the foster care system [3]. The same can be said of the juvenile justice system. National statistics show lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth in juvenile detention facilities fare worse than their heterosexual peers, suffering injustices that include physical, sexual and emotional abuse [4].

Bullying & Discrimination

Imagine being excluded, ridiculed, harassed or worse simply because you are different. Gay and transgender youth don’t have to imagine. They experience these forms of discrimination nearly every day. And there is no refuge. At school – even at home – they are singled out, left out and turned out because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to one study, gay and transgender students surveyed claimed to have heard homophobic comments on a regular basis, said they were verbally and physically victimized, admitted to feeling unsafe, and reported they felt unprotected by teachers and staff [5]. Without the support of family, incidents of discrimination and harassment at school can make gay and transgender young people feel as though the only place that they may fit in or blend in is on the street.

Lack of Culturally Competent Services

Diverse populations have distinct needs. To address the needs of a minority population, health and social service providers must have specialized training and education, as well as a high level of awareness about the issues affecting a specific population. They must be welcoming, non-judgmental and respectful.

Yet, research suggests that some service providers misunderstand homeless youth who are gay or transgender, “highlighting an urgent need to improve capacity to provide respectful, sensitive, and culturally competent care.” Homeless service providers who do not have the knowledge, skills, and language to discuss issues of sexual orientation and gender identity with youth may not only feel uncomfortable but also incapable of adequately identifying and addressing the needs of these youth [6].

Experience and Solutions

While none of these reasons justifies turning a young person out onto the street, they demonstrate the challenges that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth commonly experience upon publicly announcing their sexual orientation or gender identity. We believe understanding these reasons is the first step toward finding a solution.

Footnotes
[1] Quintana, N. (2010). On the Streets: The Federal Response to Gay and Transgender Homeless Youth. Center For American Progress.
[2-4] 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.
[5] Katayoon, M., Marksamer, J., and Reyes, C. (2009). Hidden Injustice: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Juvenile Courts. Legal Services for Children, National Juvenile Defender Center, and National Center for Lesbian Rights.
[6] Please see 1.

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