LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) individuals face a particular set of challenges, both in becoming homeless as well as when they are trying to avoid homelessness. LGBT persons face social stigma, discrimination, and often rejection by their families which adds to the physical and mental strains/challenges which all homelessness persons must struggle with.Frequently, homeless LGBT persons have great difficulty finding shelters that accept and respect them. LGBT individuals experiencing homelessness are often at a heightened risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Transgender people are particularly at physical risk due to a lack of acceptance and are often turned away from shelters and in some cases signs have been posted barring their entrance.
- 40% of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBT [Williams Institute]
- 43% of clients served by drop-in centers identified as LGBT
- 30% of street outreach clients identified as LGBT
- 30% of clients utilizing housing programs identified as LGBT
(Statistics for New York)
The most frequently cited factor contributing to LGBT homelessness was family rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity, with the second most common reason of being forced out by their parents after coming out [Williams Institute, 2012]. LGBT students often face harassment, both physical and verbal, in school which leads to high dropout rates: [GLSEN, 2007]
- Gay and transgender students are two-times less likely to finish high school or pursue a college education compared to the national average.
- 86 percent: The portion of gay and lesbian students who reported being verbally harassed at school due to their sexual orientation in 2007.
- 44 percent: The portion of gay and lesbian students who reported being physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation in 2007.
- 22 percent: The portion of gay and transgender students who reported having been physically attacked in school in 2007, with 60% saying they did not report the incidents because they believed no one would care.
- 31 percent: The portion of gay and transgender students who report incidents of harassment and violence at school to staff, only to receive no response.
LGBT youth are also disproportionally homeless due to overt discrimination when seeking alternative housing – widespread discrimination in federally funded institutions frequently contributes to the growing rates of homelessness among LGBT youth. Once homeless, these youth experience greater physical and sexual exploitation than their heterosexual counterparts.There are currently no federal programs specifically designed to meet the needs of gay and transgender homeless youth, and there are no protections in place to keep gay and transgender youth from being discriminated against while accessing federally funded homeless services.
Regardless of a persons’ gender, sexual preferences, or questioning manner, all people deserve the right to safe shelter, and homeless services need to develop a better system of support and understanding for LGBT individuals. The federal government can take several steps to reduce the incidence of gay and transgender youth homelessness and improve the services and treatment these youth receive if they do become homeless. Specific steps include: [Center for American Progress, 2010]
- School safety – Schools should be a safe haven for all youth, including LGBT youth. We need to address the role of unsafe schools have in promoting youth homelessness, and aggressively address school bullying. We also should better ensure that homeless youth are able to continue their education.
- Recognition of homeless youth challenges – LGBT homeless youth, and homeless youth in general, should be recognized as special-needs populations, protecting them from discrimination by federal grantees.
- Expanding housing options – LGBT homeless persons need safer access to housing options that will respect their sexuality and personal identity, as well as provide a safe environment. This includes training for shelter staff on how to be an ally to LGBT individuals and written policies to keep discrimination from occurring (*See Transitioning Our Shelters Guide).