By: Shane Rempel, Lisa Gareau, Ange Neil and Alicia Kalmanovitch
Pride celebrations around the world give us an opportunity to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, and Two-spirit (LGBTQ2S+) culture, as well as make a statement about the need for continued work in building equality for gender and sexually diverse groups in our city.
Calgary’s Pride Festival is running from August 25th to September 4th, and gives us all an opportunity to reflect on one of Calgary’s marginalized communities: homeless LGBTQ2S+ youth.
This blog post will give a short overview of LGBTQ2S+ youth homelessness, explore the challenges some homeless LGBTQ2S+ youth face, and suggest ways that we can all support this community.
HOMELESS LGBTQ2S+ YOUTH: AN OVERVIEW
Overrepresentation in the Homeless Population
LGBTQ2S+ youth are overrepresented in the homeless population and some research has found that as many as 29.5% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ2S+. It’s difficult to know how many people experiencing homelessness, (including youth), identify as LGBTQ2S+ as methodologies vary between studies and individuals may not be willing to self-identify for a number of reasons. (E.g., due to a lack of trust in those collecting the data, or fear of violence or discrimination) Because of this, youth homelessness is often referred to as a form of ‘hidden homelessness.’
As the number of programs and supports for LGBTQ2S+ youth, (both homeless and housed), rises, the true numbers of LGBTQ2S+ youth experiencing homelessness should become clearer.
(Figures from this 2012 report suggest that the prevalence of LGBTQ2S+ homelessness is on the rise across Canada).
Paths to Homelessness
Though every person’s story is different, a common theme in most homeless LGBTQ2S+ youth’s pathways into homelessness is often a lack of family and community support. Youth who “come out” as LGBTQ2S+ may be rejected from their families and told to move out, or they may face discrimination from peers and others in their school communities. Due to their young age, youth who are forced to leave home may end up on the streets or in foster care.
CHALLENGES AND BARRIERS
LGBTQ2S+ youth face many of the same challenges as other youth who are experiencing homelessness, however these challenges are amplified by unique barriers and additional layers of discrimination in finding housing due to:
- Transphobia and discrimination based on their physical appearance.
- Mental health challenges make it difficult to maintain housing stability. Working to pay rent may be difficult as a result of discrimination and anxiety.
- A lack of affordable housing can also propel youth to live in other communities which are more affordable, but further away from needed supports and the rest of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
For LGBTQ2S+ youth experiencing homelessness, accessing services may present challenges and risks -particularly for trans youth. Agencies are often organized in a binary sense, (I.e.: segregated by gender), and trans youth are often forced into areas that do not align with their gender identity, which can lead to discomfort, discrimination and victimization. In addition, trans and gender non-conforming youth face the risk of rejection by agencies or services that match the gender with which they identify. (E.g.: A trans woman may not be successful in accessing a women’s shelter because the staff may not feel equipped to support them.)
Even something as commonplace as gender-specific washrooms can make trans youth feel unwelcome. (E.g.: very rarely do shelters have gender-neutral washrooms)
These factors, among many others, can pose a challenge for LGBTQ2S+ youth in accessing inclusive and welcoming agencies and housing services.
WHAT CAN BE DONE
- Family and Community Supports
Family conflicts resulting from a young person “coming out” as LGBTQ2S+ is a major cause of youth homelessness. When a youth “comes out” to their family, it is important for parents to not reject them and to be as supportive as possible. Social inclusion is major factor in successful transitions into adulthood. LGBTQ2S+ youth face significant stigma and social exclusion which can present challenges in various ways. It is important for families to support youth in developing relationships with either natural or chosen supports at all times.
- Offering Appropriate Service Provisions & Training
LGBTQ2S+ cultural competency training is a type of training where participants learn about LGBTQ2S+ individuals and ways of working with them in a supportive way. This type of training has not been broadly embedded in agencies accessed by youth, and while use has been increasing, it is not always offered or mandatory for staff. Offering this type of knowledge and training can empower staff to intervene when situations of homophobia and transphobia arise.
Additionally, LGBTQ2S+ youth may be part of another marginalized group. (E.g.: Indigenous or disabled) LGBTQ2S+ youth have high rates of mental health concerns including depression, suicide, substance abuse, anxiety, or trauma, and many of these stem from long-term and persistent discrimination related to their gender and/or sexual identity. It is important for service providers to understand how this intersectionality functions and learn how to help LGBTQ2S+ youth access relevant services.
- Program Policies and Training
Programs and services can put policies in place to allow for gender and sexual identity expression, as well as anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia mandates; they can also educate staff on non-discrimination policies and provide cultural competency training.
It’s crucial that all systems, (I.e.: shelters, transitional housing, rapid rehousing, family/natural supports, and mental health supports), consider the specific and unique needs of LGBTQ2S+ youth in their programming and service provisions.
Specific funding focused on addressing the unique needs and vulnerabilities of LGBTQ2S+ youth must be considered as we continue in our shared vision of ending homelessness in Calgary.
Existing funding that is specifically targeted to LGBTQ2S+ youth homelessness has led to very positive outcomes, (such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary’s Aura program), and this could be enhanced to help support youth who need other supports – which can prevent an experience of homelessness or ensure that their episodes of homelessness are abbreviated.
The passing of Bill 10 which mandates Alberta schools allow a gay-straight alliance for any student wishing to create one is seen by many as a positive and important step to increasing the inclusion of LGBTQ2S+ students in our educational system, and ultimately, prevent them from entering into homelessness. The continued institutional support of schools and government is important in helping LGBTQ2S+ youth feel welcomed in their own communities.
During this week’s Pride celebrations, it’s important for all of us to consider the challenges faced by LGBTQ2S+ youth experiencing homelessness, and that we work towards assisting them out of homelessness.
If you, or someone you know, needs support, Calgary Outlink provides peer support, information, and resources to LGBTQ2S+ Calgarians and can be contacted at 403-234-8973.
The authors wish to thank the following individuals for invaluable assistance with this blog post: Kelly Ernst, Hilary Mutch, and Nick Falvo. Any errors lie with the authors.